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noun ear·nest \ˈər-nəst\

Definition of earnest

  1. 1 :  a serious and intent mental state <a proposal made in earnest>

  2. 2 :  a considerable or impressive degree or amount <the sap started running in earnest>

Examples of earnest

  1. The sidewalks were crowded as women and men argued and bargained with each other as the shopping day began in earnest. —Harold Robbins, The Storyteller, 1985

  2. Books are an addiction, that, when aroused in earnest, is rarely calmed. —Joseph Epstein, The Middle of My Tether, 1983

  3. The divorce proceedings began in earnest, and they were earnestly vile. —Angie Bowie et al., US, 23 Nov. 1982

  4. On Easter Monday the rain began in earnest. —Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia, (1977) 2003

Origin of earnest

Middle English ernest, from Old English eornost; akin to Old High German ernust earnest

First Known Use: before 12th century



adjective ear·nest \ˈər-nəst\

Simple Definition of earnest

  • : serious and sincere : not lighthearted or playful

Full Definition of earnest

  1. 1 :  characterized by or proceeding from an intense and serious state of mind

  2. 2 :  grave, important

ear·nest·ly adverb
ear·nest·ness play \-nəs(t)-nəs\ noun

Examples of earnest

  1. Barnum's antics provoked tongue-in-cheek reporting and nods and winks in the newspapers, but no earnest cries of humbug. The artful deceiver turned fraud into family fun. —Jackson Lears, New Republic, 12 Nov. 2001

  2. Students of all ages were forced to watch these earnest but bizarre short films, which apprised them of such things as the folly of playing on steep precipices overlooking the ocean, the need to minimize one's square-dancing during the early days of the menstrual cycle, the inadvisability of shooting heroin before an important track meet and the necessity of placing the fork to the left of the plate. —Joe Queenan, New York Times, 20 Jan. 2000

  3. … a Prussian émigré who became a middle-class English gentleman; an angry agitator who spent much of his adult life in the scholarly silence of the British Museum Reading Room; a gregarious and convivial host who fell out with almost all his friends; a devoted family man who impregnated his housemaid; and a deeply earnest philosopher who loved drink, cigars and jokes. —Francis Wheen, The Nation, 10 July 2000

  4. … a bland expression on my face, looking more innocent than an innocent person has any business looking, I imagined that the sales-women who sometimes glanced over at me saw an earnest young shopper instead of a transparent little klepto. —Tobias Wolff, Forbes, 20 Mar. 1989

  5. an earnest plea for help

  6. <I'll accept only an earnest apology from you.>

Origin of earnest

(see 1earnest)

First Known Use: before 12th century

Synonym Discussion of earnest

serious, grave, solemn, sedate, staid, sober, earnest mean not light or frivolous. serious implies a concern for what really matters <a serious play about social injustice>. grave implies both seriousness and dignity in expression or attitude <read the proclamation in a grave voice>. solemn suggests an impressive gravity utterly free from levity <a sad and solemn occasion>. sedate implies a composed and decorous seriousness <remained sedate amid the commotion>. staid suggests a settled, accustomed sedateness and prim self-restraint <a quiet and staid community>. sober stresses seriousness of purpose and absence of levity or frivolity <a sober look at the state of our schools>. earnest suggests sincerity or often zealousness of purpose <an earnest reformer>.



noun ear·nest \ˈər-nəst\

Definition of earnest

  1. 1 :  something of value given by a buyer to a seller to bind a bargain

  2. 2 :  a token of what is to come :  pledge

Examples of earnest

  1. … the cruiser Aurora, manned by Bolsheviks and anchored in the Neva, announced that it would open fire on the Winter Palace, and fired a few blank charges as an earnest of its resolve. —Martin Gilbert, The First World War, (1994) 1995

  2. In 1942, Roosevelt, Stimson, and Marshall all recognized the degree of fraud in MacArthur but let him get away with his act because in those black days morale required an invincible hero in the Pacific as an earnest of eventual victory there. —Paul Fussell, Wartime, 1989

  3. When I had promised to pay for his information and given him an earnest, he told me that he had made two journeys between Carfax and a house in Piccadilly, and had taken from this house to the latter nine great boxes, “main heavy ones,” with a horse and cart hired by him for this purpose. —Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897

Origin of earnest

Middle English ernes, ernest, from Anglo-French arres, erres, plural of erre earnest, from Latin arra, short for arrabo, from Greek arrhabōn, of Semitic origin; akin to Hebrew ʽērābhōn pledge

First Known Use: 13th century

Seen and Heard

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February 11, 2016

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