A quill is a feather, or the narrow tube of a feather's shaft — long ago used as a writing instrument. John Hancock didn't use a ballpoint to sign the Declaration of Independence, silly. He used a quill!

The quills of a bird's feathers seem ideally designed for dipping in ink and writing on paper — they're so perfect that this type of old-fashioned pen is also called a quill. In addition to birds, there are some mammals with quills, including porcupines and hedgehogs. We know that quill comes from the Low German quiele , but beyond that its origin is a mystery.

Definitions of quill
  1. noun
    the hollow spine of a feather
    synonyms: calamus, shaft
    see moresee less
    type of:
    a riblike supporting or strengthening part of an animal or plant
  2. noun
    a stiff hollow protective spine on a porcupine or hedgehog
    see moresee less
    type of:
    a sharp rigid animal process or appendage; as a porcupine quill or a ridge on a bone or a ray of a fish fin
  3. noun
    pen made from a bird's feather
    synonyms: quill pen
    see moresee less
    type of:
    a writing implement with a point from which ink flows
  4. noun
    any of the larger wing or tail feathers of a bird
    synonyms: flight feather, pinion, quill feather
    see moresee less
    primary, primary feather, primary quill
    one of the main flight feathers projecting along the outer edge of a bird's wing
    tail feather
    feather growing from the tail (uropygium) of a bird
    sickle feather
    one of the long curved tail feathers of a rooster
    type of:
    feather, plumage, plume
    the light horny waterproof structure forming the external covering of birds
Word Family

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by Vocabulary.com’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