from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • transitive verb To refrain from harming, injuring, destroying, or killing.
  • transitive verb To leave undamaged or unharmed.
  • transitive verb To refrain from denouncing or distressing; treat leniently or with consideration.
  • transitive verb To allow (someone) to avoid experiencing or doing (something).
  • transitive verb To hold back from; withhold or avoid.
  • transitive verb To use or supply with restraint.
  • transitive verb To give or grant out of one's resources; afford.
  • adjective Kept in reserve.
  • adjective Being in excess of what is needed; extra.
  • adjective Free for other use; unoccupied.
  • adjective Not lavish, abundant, or excessive; meager.
  • adjective Lean and trim.
  • adjective Not elaborate or ornate; simple.
  • noun A replacement, especially a tire, reserved for future need.
  • noun The act of knocking down all ten pins with two successive rolls of a bowling ball.
  • noun The score so made.
  • idiom (to spare) In addition to what is needed.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To be frugal, saving, or chary of; refrain from employing freely; use or dispense with moderation.
  • To dispense with; give or yield up; part with the use, possession, or presence of; do without, as for a motive or because of superfluity.
  • To withhold the use or doing of; refrain from; omit; forbear; forego: often with a second (indirect) object.
  • To refrain from injury to; leave unhurt or undisturbed; forbear from harming or destroying; treat with moderation or consideration; withhold severity or exaction from; refrain from unkindness to; specifically, to allow to live.
  • Used reflexively, to be sparing of one's self; be chary or diffident; act with reserve.
  • To be frugal or saving; economize: act parsimoniously or stingily.
  • To withhold action of any kind; refrain from the doing of something, especially something harmful or harsh; hold one's hand; keep quiet; hold off.
  • Scanty; meager; frugal; not plentiful or abundant: as, a spare diet.
  • Lacking in substance; lean; gaunt; poor; thin; flimsy.
  • Reserved; chary; cautious.
  • That may be spared, dispensed with, or applied to a different purpose; not needed for regular or appointed uses; superabundant: as, spare time for recreation; spare cash.
  • Reserved front common use; provided or held for extra need; not regularly required: as, a spare anchor; a spare umbrella.
  • In zoology, sparingly distributed; remote from one another; few in number; sparse: as, spare hairs, spots, or punctures.
  • noun An opening in a gown or petticoat; a placket.
  • noun Frugal use: saving economy; moderation; restraint.
  • noun In American holding, an advantage gained by the knocking down of all the pins by rolling two balls: as, to make a spare.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • intransitive verb To be frugal; not to be profuse; to live frugally; to be parsimonious.
  • intransitive verb To refrain from inflicting harm; to use mercy or forbearance.
  • intransitive verb obsolete To desist; to stop; to refrain.
  • transitive verb To use frugally or stintingly, as that which is scarce or valuable; to retain or keep unused; to save.
  • transitive verb To keep to one's self; to forbear to impart or give.
  • transitive verb To preserve from danger or punishment; to forbear to punish, injure, or harm; to show mercy to.
  • transitive verb To save or gain, as by frugality; to reserve, as from some occupation, use, or duty.
  • transitive verb To deprive one's self of, as by being frugal; to do without; to dispense with; to give up; to part with.
  • transitive verb [Obs.] To save one's self labor, punishment, or blame.
  • noun obsolete The act of sparing; moderation; restraint.
  • noun obsolete Parsimony; frugal use.
  • noun obsolete An opening in a petticoat or gown; a placket.


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English sparen, from Old English sparian.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Old English sparian

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Middle English, from Old English spær 'sparing, scant', from Proto-Germanic *sparaz (cf. Dutch spaarzaam, German spärlich, Icelandic sparr), from Proto-Indo-European *sper- (cf. Latin prosper ‘lucky’, Old Church Slavonic sporŭ ‘plentiful’, Albanian shperr ‘to earn money’, Ancient Greek sparnós ‘rare’, Sanskrit sphirá ‘thick’).


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word spare.



Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • Contronymic in the sense: lean vs. excess (to spare).

    January 27, 2007

  • to go spare = to get angry, to go berserk

    "They'd worn a track across the weeds since dawn, and the cratchety tinkle of that little bell had driven her spare, but she wasn't going to go down there early and give her tenants the satisfaction of gloating."

    Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, p 57 of the Graywolf Press hardcover edition

    March 29, 2010