ab·​bess ˈa-bəs How to pronounce abbess (audio)
: a woman who is the superior of a convent of nuns

Examples of abbess in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Groff imagined the poet Marie de France as a teenager forced to venture into the dark woods to serve as the abbess. Ron Charles, Washington Post, 7 Sep. 2023 It’s been nearly 14 centuries since the monastery founded by St. Hild of Whitby, a prominent abbess in 7th century Anglo-Saxon England, hosted the Northumbrian kingdom’s assembly to discuss the date on which its Christian church would celebrate Easter. Marc Ramirez, USA TODAY, 28 Apr. 2023 Another early modern abbess, likely one Eadburg of Minster-in-Thanet, left behind a legacy of a different kind: her name and assorted doodles of humanoid figures, inscribed on the pages of an eighth-century Christian manuscript now housed at the University of Oxford. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, 28 Dec. 2022 In 1151, Richardis was appointed the abbess of a convent far to the north, near Bremen, where her brother happened to be the archbishop. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 30 Jan. 2023 This Eadburg taught another Englishwoman—Leoba, the abbess of Bischofsheim—how to read, according to an editorial in the Guardian. Sarah Kuta, Smithsonian Magazine, 6 Dec. 2022 The heavy religious imagery suggests the anonymous woman was an early Christian leader, perhaps an abbess. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, 28 Dec. 2022 The Anglo-Saxon bling suggested the woman was powerful in her own right and extremely devout, perhaps an early Christian leader, a princess or an abbess. Katie Hunt, CNN, 6 Dec. 2022 So that is a moment when it’s really dramatized: the sacramental authority of the priest on the one hand and the local, relational authority of the abbess on the other hand. The Salt Lake Tribune, 11 May 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'abbess.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English abbesse, borrowed from Anglo-French abbesse, abeiesse, borrowed from Late Latin abbātissa, feminine derivative of abbāt-, abbās abbot

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of abbess was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near abbess

Cite this Entry

“Abbess.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


ab·​bess ˈab-əs How to pronounce abbess (audio)
: the head of a convent of nuns
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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