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adjective os·ten·si·ble \ä-ˈsten(t)-sə-bəl, ə-\

Simple Definition of ostensible

  • : seeming or said to be true or real but very possibly not true or real

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of ostensible

  1. 1 :  intended for display :  open to view

  2. 2 :  being such in appearance :  plausible rather than demonstrably true or real <the ostensible purpose for the trip>

Examples of ostensible in a sentence

  1. That intelligence and those facts, of course, all pertained to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, the war's ostensible casus belli, which we now know did not exist. —Frank Rich, New York Review, 6 Apr. 2006

  2. To listen again to “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”—probably the most relentlessly cheerful song ever written on the ostensible theme of misery—is at once to admire its delicately judged textures and Swiss-watch precision … —Geoffrey O'Brien, New York Review of Books, 15 Dec. 2005

  3. Its ostensible subject is America's murderous gun culture. Its real subject, of course, is the ravenous ego of its director-star, Michael Moore. —Scott Berg, Time, 14 July 2003

  4. It's a snarky, glory-thieving place, the world of big-bucks political fund raising. Ostensible grownups can be reduced to screaming toddlers over who gets the credit for bringing in a major donor's gift … —Viveca Novak, Time, 14 June 1999

  5. <the ostensible reason for the meeting turned out to be a trick to get him to the surprise party>

Did You Know?

Like its synonyms "apparent" and "seeming," "ostensible" implies a discrepancy between what appears to be and what actually is. "Apparent" suggests appearance to unaided senses that may not be borne out by more rigorous examination ("the apparent cause of the accident"). "Seeming" implies a character in the thing being observed that gives it the appearance of something else ("the seeming simplicity of the story"). "Ostensible," which descends from the Latin word ostendere ("to show"), suggests a discrepancy between a declared or implied aim or reason and the true one.

Origin of ostensible

French, from Latin ostensus, past participle of ostendere to show, from obs-, ob- in the way + tendere to stretch — more at ob-, thin

First Known Use: circa 1771

Synonym Discussion of ostensible

apparent, illusory, seeming, ostensible mean not actually being what appearance indicates. apparent suggests appearance to unaided senses that may or may not be borne out by more rigorous examination or greater knowledge <the apparent cause of the accident>. illusory implies a false impression based on deceptive resemblance or faulty observation, or influenced by emotions that prevent a clear view <an illusory sense of security>. seeming implies a character in the thing observed that gives it the appearance, sometimes through intent, of something else <the seeming simplicity of the story>. ostensible suggests a discrepancy between an openly declared or naturally implied aim or reason and the true one <the ostensible reason for their visit>.

Rhymes with ostensible

OSTENSIBLE Defined for Kids


adjective os·ten·si·ble \ä-ˈsten-sə-bəl\

Definition of ostensible for Students

  1. :  seeming to be true :  apparent <The ostensible reason for the call was to chat, but then he asked for money.>

ostensibly \-blē\ adverb

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up ostensible? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a timid, meek, or unassertive person

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