Definition of shell noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

  1. 1  [countable, uncountable] the hard outer part of eggs, nuts, some seeds and some animals We collected shells on the beach. snail shells walnut shells earrings made out of coconut shell see also eggshell, nutshell, seashell, tortoiseshell See related entries: Parts of animals
  2. 2[countable] any object that looks like the shell of a snail or sea creature pasta shells
  3. 3[countable] a metal case filled with explosive, to be fired from a large gun A shell burst only yards away from us. See related entries: Weapons
  4. 4(North American English) = cartridge
  5. 5[countable] the walls or outer structure of something, for example, an empty building or ship after a fire or a bomb attack The house was now a shell gutted by flames. (figurative) My life has been an empty shell since he died. See related entries: Parts of boats and ships, How a building looks
  6. 6[countable] any structure that forms a hard outer frame the body shell of a car
  7. 7[singular] the outer layer of somebody’s personality; how they seem to be or feel She had developed a shell of indifference.
  8. Word OriginOld English scell (noun), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch schel ‘scale, shell’, also to scale ‘thin plates that cover the skin of many fish and reptiles’. The verb dates from the mid 16th cent. in sense (2).Extra examples I had become a hollow shell. Male crabs shed their shells twice a year. Remove the mussels from their shells. She had built up a protective shell around herself. The fire reduced the school to a hollow shell. The garden was littered with empty snail shells. The snail went back into its shell. The telltale sound of an incoming shell was heard. They braved heavy shell fire to rescue the wounded. Two shells hit the roof. a heap of spent brass shells from a machine gun creatures that have shells soldiers suffering from shell shock tank-busting guns that fired depleted uranium shellsIdioms to become less shy and more confident when talking to other people He’s really come out of his shell since he met Marie.
    to go, retreat, etc. into your shell
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    to become shyer and avoid talking to other people Whenever my friends are here, she just withdraws into her shell.
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: shell