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


adjective pun·gent \ˈpən-jənt\

Simple Definition of pungent

  • : having a strong, sharp taste or smell

  • : having a strong effect on the mind because of being clever and direct

Full Definition of pungent

  1. 1 :  sharply painful

  2. 2 :  having a stiff and sharp point <pungent leaves>

  3. 3 a :  marked by a sharp incisive quality :  caustic <a pungent critic> <pungent language> b :  being sharp and to the point

  4. 4 a :  causing a sharp or irritating sensation; especially :  acrid b :  having an intense flavor or odor <a pungent chili>

pun·gent·ly adverb

Examples of pungent

  1. The left has often complained that what it needs isn't polite speech, but voices as pungent as those on the right. —Jennifer Senior, New York Times Book Review, 24 Sept. 2006

  2. I remember the enormous size of that fire and the pungent smell of smoke from the burning chaparral as the flames raced up the slope toward our house. —Tim White, Curious Minds, 2004

  3. Maybe what seems pungent to the locals only becomes alarming when sniffed through a giant Western proboscis, but there are some odors in China that make a visit to Bhopal seem like a picnic downwind from the Arpege factory. —P. J. O'Rourke, Holidays in Hell, 1988

  4. a play with pungent dialogue

  5. a pungent satire of current politics

Origin of pungent

Latin pungent-, pungens, present participle of pungere to prick, sting; akin to Latin pugnus fist, pugnare to fight, Greek pygmē fist

First Known Use: 1597

Synonym Discussion of pungent

pungent, piquant, poignant, racy mean sharp and stimulating to the mind or the senses. pungent implies a sharp, stinging, or biting quality especially of odors <a cheese with a pungent odor>. piquant suggests a power to whet the appetite or interest through tartness or mild pungency <a piquant sauce>. poignant suggests something is sharply or piercingly effective in stirring one's emotions <felt a poignant sense of loss>. racy implies having a strongly characteristic natural quality fresh and unimpaired <spontaneous, racy prose>.

Medical Dictionary


adjective pun·gent \-jənt\

Medical Definition of pungent

  1. :  causing a sharp or irritating sensation; especially :  acrid

  2. pun·gent·ly adverb

Seen and Heard

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


February 10, 2016

to put in good humor

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of the following refers to thin, bending ice, or to the act of running over such ice?

pince-nez spindrift kittly-benders duvet
Name That Thing

10 quick questions: hear them, spell them, and see how your skills compare to the crowd.


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