AskDefine | Define prehensile

Dictionary Definition

prehensile adj
1 adapted for grasping especially by wrapping around an object; "a monkey's prehensile tail" [ant: nonprehensile]
2 having a keen intellect; "poets--those gifted strangely prehensile men"- A.T.Quiller-Couch
3 immoderately desirous of acquiring e.g. wealth; "they are avaricious and will do anything for money"; "casting covetous eyes on his neighbor's fields"; "a grasping old miser"; "grasping commercialism"; "greedy for money and power"; "grew richer and greedier"; "prehensile employers stingy with raises for their employees" [syn: avaricious, covetous, grabby, grasping, greedy]

User Contributed Dictionary



From préhensile, from perfect passive participle prehensus, from prehendo, + adjective suffix -ile, from -ilis.


  • a RP /prɪˈhɛn.saɪl/, /prI"hEn.saIl/
  • a US /priˈhɛnsəl/


  1. Able to take hold of and clasp objects; adapted for grasping especially by wrapping around an object.
    Some monkeys have prehensile tails which they use to pick things up.

Derived terms


able to take hold of objects

Extensive Definition

Prehensility is the quality of an organ that has adapted for grasping or holding. Examples of prehensile body parts include the tails of New World monkeys and opossums, the trunks of elephants, the tongues of giraffes, the lips of horses and the proboscides of tapir. The hands of primates are all prehensile to varying degrees, and many species (even a few humans) have prehensile feet as well. The claws of cats are also prehensile. Many extant lizards have prehensile tails (geckos, chameleons, and a species of skink). The fossil record shows prehensile tails in lizards (Simiosauria) going back many million years to the Triassic period - Celeskey (2005).
Prehensility is an evolutionary adaptation that has afforded species a great natural advantage in manipulating their environment for feeding, digging, and defense. It enables many animals, such as primates, to use tools in order to complete tasks that would otherwise be impossible without highly specialized anatomy. For example, chimpanzees have the ability to use sticks to fish for termites and grubs. However, not all prehensile organs are applied to tool use- the giraffe tongue, for instance, is instead used in feeding and self-cleaning behaviors.
The word is derived from the Latin term prehendere, meaning "to grasp."
prehensile in Esperanto: Tenpovo
prehensile in French: Préhension

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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