Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


noun pa·tri·arch \ˈpā-trē-ˌärk\

Definition of patriarch

  1. 1 a :  one of the scriptural fathers of the human race or of the Hebrew people b :  a man who is father or founder c (1) :  the oldest member or representative of a group (2) :  a venerable old man d :  a man who is head of a patriarchy

  2. 2 a :  any of the bishops of the ancient or Eastern Orthodox sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem or the ancient and Western see of Rome with authority over other bishops b :  the head of any of various Eastern churches c :  a Roman Catholic bishop next in rank to the pope with purely titular or with metropolitan jurisdiction

  3. 3 :  a Mormon of the Melchizedek priesthood empowered to perform the ordinances of the church and pronounce blessings within a stake or prescribed jurisdiction

Examples of patriarch in a sentence

  1. Our grandfather was the family's patriarch.

  2. The tribe's patriarch ruled for 20 years before his death.

Origin and Etymology of patriarch

Middle English patriarche, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin patriarcha, from Greek patriarchēs, from patria lineage (from patr-, patēr father) + -archēs -arch — more at father

First Known Use: 13th century

Other Anthropology Terms

PATRIARCH Defined for Kids


noun pa·tri·arch \ˈpā-trē-ˌärk\

Definition of patriarch for Students

  1. 1 :  a man who heads a family, group, or government

  2. 2 :  a respected old man

Word Root of patriarch

The Latin word pater, meaning “father,” and the Greek word patēr give us the root pater or patr. Anyone or anything paternal, such as an aunt or uncle, is related to one's father. A patriarch is a father and ruler of a family or tribe. A patriot is a person who loves his or her fatherland or country. A patron is a person who gives support and approval for a project or artist, as fathers support and approve of their children.

Seen and Heard

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


a great number

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

  • bride-of-dracula-in-cat-form-surrounded-by-candles-and-somewhat-bewilderingly-orange-sacks-instead-of-surely-much-cheaper-and-easier-to-find-actual-pumpkins
  • Which is a synonym of phlegmatic?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.