Intermediate+ Word of the Day: ground

ground (noun, adjective, verb) /graʊnd/ LISTEN

The ground is the surface of the earth.

The ground is the surface of the earth, soil, or any piece of land put to a purpose. Also, a subject for discussion and usually plural, grounds are the foundations for certain acts or beliefs, left over material that has been brewed, like coffee, or a garden surrounding a building. As an adjective, ground means ‘operating on land.’ As a verb, to ground means ‘to place an argument on a solid foundation,’ ‘to instruct someone in the principles of something,’ and also ‘to punish someone by restricting their social activities.’

Example sentences

  • The plane's wheels hit the ground with a bump.
  • Tania is preparing the ground for her vegetable patch.
  • There is a sports ground in the village.
  • What are your grounds for thinking it was Keith who stole the money?
  • We went out for a walk in the castle grounds.
  • Joe is a member of the air force's ground staff.
  • This course is designed to ground students in the sciences.
  • Amy's parents grounded her when they caught her smoking.

Words often used with ground

break new ground: do something original or innovative. Example: “The researchers are really breaking new ground with the treatment they are developing.”

gain ground: make progress. Example: “Environmentalism used to be thought of as a specialist interest, but environmental ideas are now increasingly gaining ground amongst the majority of the population.”

lose ground: fail to advance. Example: “The government is losing ground in its battle against illegal drugs.”

hold your ground, stand your ground: refuse to give in. Example: “Paul knew he was in the right in his dispute with his neighbor, so he stood his ground.”

get off the ground, get something off the ground: get underway. Example: “We’re trying to get a new project off the ground at work.”

run something into the ground: completely exhaust something. Example: “The tycoon’s son inherited his father’s business empire and ran it into the ground in just five years.” or “That car is too old to sell now; we might as well just run it into the ground.”

In pop culture

Ground control is an important element of aviation and space flights. The subject of David Bowie’s 1969 song “Space Oddity” is a conversation between ground control and an astronaut. You can watch and listen to the song being performed live and read the lyrics here:

Did you know?

As we mentioned above, the ground is the surface of the earth, and today is Earth Day—a day devoted to raising environmental awareness through various events being held all over the world. The day was first celebrated in the US in 1970 and has been an international event since 1990. You can learn more about Earth Day here.

Commonly confused with

The adjective form of ground (operating on land), should not be confused with the unrelated adjective ground, which means ‘reduced to fine particles,’ and comes from the past participle form of the verb grind.

Other forms

groundable (adjective), groundably (adverb)


Ground dates back to before the year 900. The Old English grund, which in Middle English could be spelled either grund or grownd, meant ‘bottom or foundation’ and ‘surface of the earth,’ but it could also mean ‘bottom of the sea’ and (mainly in literary texts) ‘hell or abyss.’ It comes from the Proto-Germanic noun grundus, which meant ‘deep place,’ and is related to the Old Frisian, Old Saxon, Danish and Swedish grund, the Dutch grond, the Old High German grunt, and the German Grund, all of which mean ‘ground, soil or bottom,’ and the Old Norse words grunn (a shallow place) grund (field or plain) and grunnr (bottom). No related words are found outside of Germanic languages, so it is unlikely that the word has a Proto-Indo-European root. The sense of ‘reason or motive,’ originally a figurative use of the ‘foundation’ meaning, first appeared around the year 1200, while ‘source, origin or cause’ became common meanings for ground around the year 1400. The verb comes from the noun, and dates back to the mid-13th century, when the original meaning was ‘to put on the ground or to strike down to the ground.’ The meaning ‘to lay the foundation of something’ first appeared in the late 14th century, and was closely followed by ‘to base (an argument) on.’ The meaning ‘to punish’ is from the early 20th century. It is usually used for children now, but it originally meant to punish pilots by not letting them fly. The adjective comes from the past participle form of the verb. The plural noun grounds, often used for coffee or fine particles, actually comes from a completely different word: the verb grind, through its past participle and adjective ground. It dates back to the mid-14th century.

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