A pestle is a heavy, blunt tool used to grind things up, such as spices or herbs. If you're grinding spices, you put them in a container called a mortar and use the pestle to smash them up until they're finely ground.

The mortar and pestle was originally used by pharmacists to grind substances for medical use. Because they are sold together as sets and are always used together, many people aren't sure which is the mortar and which is the pestle. The origin of pestle is the Latin word pistillum, which means "pounder." This can help you remember that the pestle is the pounder. Also, pistillum looks like pistol, which is also held in the hand.

Definitions of pestle
  1. noun
    a club-shaped hand tool for grinding and mixing substances in a mortar
    see moresee less
    type of:
    hand tool
    a tool used with workers' hands
  2. noun
    a heavy tool of stone or iron (usually with a flat base and a handle) that is used to grind and mix material (as grain or drugs or pigments) against a slab of stone
    synonyms: muller, pounder
    see moresee less
    type of:
    an implement used in the practice of a vocation
  3. noun
    machine consisting of a heavy bar that moves vertically for pounding or crushing ores
    synonyms: stamp
    see moresee less
    type of:
    any mechanical or electrical device that transmits or modifies energy to perform or assist in the performance of human tasks
  4. verb
    grind, mash or pulverize in a mortar
    pestle the garlic”
    see moresee less
    type of:
    bray, comminute, crunch, grind, mash
    reduce to small pieces or particles by pounding or abrading
Word Family

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by’s experts.

  • Proven methods: Learn faster, remember longer with our scientific approach.
  • Personalized plan: We customize your experience to maximize your learning.
  • Strategic studying: Focus on the words that are most crucial for success.


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 8 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 10 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week