AskDefine | Define trench

Dictionary Definition



1 a ditch dug as a fortification having a parapet of the excavated earth
2 a long steep-sided depression in the ocean floor [syn: deep, oceanic abyss]
3 any long ditch cut in the ground


1 impinge or infringe upon; "This impinges on my rights as an individual"; "This matter entrenches on other domains" [syn: impinge, encroach, entrench]
2 fortify by surrounding with trenches; "He trenched his military camp"
3 cut or carve deeply into; "letters trenched into the stone"
4 set, plant, or bury in a trench; "trench the fallen soldiers"; "trench the vegetables"
5 cut a trench in, as for drainage; "ditch the land to drain it"; "trench the fields" [syn: ditch]
6 dig a trench or trenches; "The National Guardsmen were sent out to trench"

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A long, narrow ditch or hole dug in the ground, especially in warfare.
  2. a pit, usually rectangular with smooth sidewalls and floor, excavated during an archaeological investigation.
  3. A trench coat.
    • 1999 April 22, daSage , "Re: holy mother of god! WTF??",, Usenet,
      I don't think that they should ban the coats, but I do feel that it would be fairly insensitive for one to wear a trench to (Denver) schools, at least for the remainder of the school year.
    • 1999 April 24, Xiphias Gladius , "Re: trenchcoat mafia", ne.general.selected, Usenet,
      I was the first person in my high school to wear a trench and fedora constantly, and Ben was one of the first to wear a black trench.
    • 2007, Nina Garcia, The Little Black Book of Style, HarperCollins, as excerpted in Elle, October 2007, page 138,
      A classic trench can work in any kind of weather and goes well with almost anything....


long, narrow ditch or hole


  1. Usually with 'upon', to invade, usually regarding the rights or the exclusive authority of another.
    1640: Ben Jonson, Underwoods, page 68:
    • Shee is the Judge, Thou Executioner, Or if thou needs would'st trench upon her power, Thou mightst have yet enjoy'd thy crueltie, With some more thrift, and more varietie.
    1949: Charles Austin Beard, American Government and Politics, page 16:
    • He could make what laws he pleased, as long as those laws did not trench upon property rights.
    2005: Carl von Clausewitz, J. J. Graham, On War, page 261:
    • ... our ideas, therefore, must trench upon the province of tactics.
  2. To excavate an elongated often narrow pit.

Extensive Definition

A trench is a type of excavation or depression in the ground. Trenches are generally defined by being deeper than they are wide (as opposed to a wider gully or ditch), and by being narrow compared to their length (as opposed to a simple hole).


A number of areas exist in which trenches play a significant role;


Trenches have long been used to carry water to or away from areas. Trenches can be used for draining purposes, leading water away from a swamp or wetland that is to be dried out. Likewise they can be used for irrigation purposes, directing water into dry areas. Both uses generally require a slope for the water to flow down.


Archeologists may use the 'trench method', pioneered by Dame Kathleen Kenyon in Israel, for searching and excavating ancient ruins or to dig into strata of sedimented material to get a sideways (layered) view of the deposits - with a hope of being able to place found objects or materials in a chronological order. The advantage of this method is that it destroys only a small part of the site (those areas where the trenches, often arranged in a grid pattern, are located). However, this method also has the disadvantage of only revealing small slices of the whole volume, and modern archeological digs usually employ combination methods.


Trenches are a natural feature in many landscapes. Some are created by rivers in flow (which may have long since fallen dry), others are features created by geological movement, such as oceanic trenches. The later form is relatively deep, linear and narrow, and is formed by plate subduction.


In the civil engineering field of construction or maintenance of infrastructure, trenches play a major role. They may be created to search for pipes and other infrastructure that is known to be underground in the general area, but whose exact location has been lost ('search trench' or 'search slit'). They are also used to underground easily damaged and obstructive infrastructure or utilities (such as gas mains, water mains or telephone lines). A similar use for higher bulk would be in pipeline transport. Finally, trenches may be created as the first step of creating a foundation wall.

Military usage

While trenches have often been dug as defensive measures, in the pre-firearm eras, they were mainly a type of hindrance for an attacker of a fortified location, such as the moat around a castle (this is technically called a ditch).
Only with the advent of accurate firearms, and the tactics that evolved in World War I and the Crimean War, did the use of trenches as positions for the defender of a fortification become common, though the Māori of New Zealand were known to have used it earlier in their fortifications in the late 19th Century. The military usage evolved very quickly in the First World War, until whole systems of extensive main trenches, backup trenches (in case the first lines were overrun) and communication trenches had been developed, often stretching dozens of kilometres along a front without interruption, and some kilometres further back from the opponents lines.

Other uses

  • Trenches are often used for mass graves, sometimes even dug by prisoners about to be executed (see, for example, the Holocaust novel Night).
  • Sunken trenches may be combined with a wall on one of their sides to form a ha-ha, a type of hidden fence.
trench in German: Künette
trench in Spanish: Batache
trench in Simple English: Trench
trench in Ukrainian: Канава (гірництво)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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