General English

  • adjective only; belonging to one person
  • noun the underneath side of your foot
  • noun the main underneath part of a shoe, but not the heel


  • feminine The name given to several types of flatfish, in particular Dover sole, lemon sole and witch or Torbay sole.


  • noun the part under the foot


  • noun a type of flat sea fish with delicate white flesh

Origin & History of “sole”

English has three separate words sole, two of them closely related. Sole ‘underneath of the foot’ (14th c.) comes via Old French sole from vulgar Latin *sola, a descendant of Latin solea ‘sandal, sill’ (a possible relative of English sill). And this in turn was derived from Latin solum ‘ground, sole of the foot’ (a possible contributor to English soil). Sole ‘flatfish’ (14th c.) was independently borrowed from Old French sole in the sense ‘flatfish’, a metaphorical extension based on the similarity in shape between the fish and the sole of the foot.

Sole ‘only’ (14th c.) comes via Old French soul (ancestor of modern French seul ‘only, sole’) from Latin sōlus ‘alone, single’. The origins of this are uncertain, but it may be related to the pronoun ‘oneself’, in which case it could mean etymologically ‘by oneself’. Its other contributions to English include desolate (14th c.), soliloquy (17th c.), solitary (14th c.), solo (17th c.) (via Italian), and sullen.