Intermediate+ Word of the Day: ash

ash (noun) /æʃ/ LISTEN

Ash is the gray or black powder that remains after a fire and the color that resembles it as well. When volcanos erupt, they throw out pulverized lava and that is also ash. Ashes, always in the plural, are the remains or ruins of something destroyed, usually used figuratively, and also, literally, the mortal remains of a cremated body. Unrelatedly, an ash is any of various trees of the olive family and also the wood taken from these trees.

Example sentences

  • Edward clears the ash out of the fireplace in the morning.
  • Karen chose a cream scarf with an ash border.
  • The volcano was spewing ash over the surrounding area.
  • The bankrupt businessman contemplated the ashes of his dreams.
  • We scattered my grandfather's ashes in his favorite spot.
  • Jonas could not help but feel remorse over the affair when he looked back on the ashes of his marriage.
  • A tall ash stood at the bottom of the garden.
  • This table is made from ash.

Words often used with ash

haul your ashes: to haul your ashes is to leave, especially in a hurry. Example: “We’re running late; I’ll leave without you if you don’t haul your ashes out the door right now!” Haul your ashes or, in this case, also get you ashes hauled, can also be used as slang, meaning to have sex or to get sexual release. This expression is dated and you may find it in books or old blues songs.

sackcloth and ashes: when you wear sackcloth and ashes, you show, by your behavior, that you repent for something you did. Example: “I told her I was sorry, but it seems I need to wear sackcloth and ashes until she decides to forgive me.”

In pop culture

Ashes to ashes is an expression that makes up part of the traditional Christian burial service in English. It is also the name of a song by David Bowie, which you can listen to here:

Additional information

The Ashes is the name of a series of cricket matches played periodically between England and Australia.

Did you know?

The expression rise from the ashes means ‘to recover from ruin or disaster.’ For example, you could say “The island was hit by the worst tropical storm in living memory just a few years ago, but it has risen from the ashes and is now better than ever.” The expression refers to the legendary bird the phoenix, which dies in flames and is then reborn from the ashes, as you can see in this clip from the Harry Potter movie:

Other forms

ashtray (noun), ashen (adjective), ashy (adjective)


Ash, meaning the remains of something burnt, dates back to before the year 950. The Old English noun æsce or asce, which became a(i)sshe in Middle English, can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic askon, from the Proto-Indo-European root ai- (to burn or glow). It is related to the Old Norse and Swedish aska, the Old High German asca, the German Asche, the Gothic azgo and the Dutch asch (all meaning ‘ashes’), as well as the Sanskrit asah (ashes or dust), the Armenian azazem (I dry up), the Greek azein (to dry up or parch) and the Latin ardus (parched or dry). Ashes, meaning ‘the mortal remains of a person,’ has been used since the late 13th century, a reference to the ancient custom of cremation. The pulverized lava thrown from a volcano has only been called ash since the mid-17th century. The tree called ash is completely unrelated. Its name dates back to before the year 900; the Old English æsc (asshe in Middle English) can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic noun askaz or askiz, from the Proto-Indo-European root os– (ash tree). It is related to the Old Norse askr, the Old Saxon ask, the Middle Dutch esce and the German Esche (all meaning ‘ash tree’), as well as the Armenian haci (ash tree), the Albanian ah (beech), the Greek oxya (beech), the Latin ornus (wild mountain ash), the Russian jasen and the Lithuanian uosis (ash). In Old English, æsc could also refer to a spear, because the tough, flexible wood of the ash was often used to make them, but this meaning has been lost.

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