ab·​ject ˈab-ˌjekt How to pronounce abject (audio)
: sunk to or existing in a low state or condition : very bad or severe
living in abject poverty
to lowest pitch of abject fortune thou art fallenJohn Milton
abject failure
: cast down in spirit : servile, spiritless
a man made abject by suffering
an abject coward
: showing hopelessness or resignation
abject surrender
: expressing or offered in a humble and often ingratiating spirit
abject flattery
an abject apology
ˈab-ˌjek(t)-lē How to pronounce abject (audio)
ˈab-ˌjek(t)-nəs How to pronounce abject (audio)

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Abject comes from the Latin abjectus (meaning "downcast," "humble," or "sordid"), the past participle of the Latin verb abicere, meaning "to cast off." Its original meaning in English was "cast off" or "rejected," but it is now used to refer more broadly to things in a low state or condition. Abject shares with mean, ignoble, and sordid the sense of being below the normal standards of human decency and dignity.

Choose the Right Synonym for abject

mean, ignoble, abject, sordid mean being below the normal standards of human decency and dignity.

mean suggests small-mindedness, ill temper, or cupidity.

mean and petty satire

ignoble suggests a loss or lack of some essential high quality of mind or spirit.

an ignoble scramble after material possessions

abject may imply degradation, debasement, or servility.

abject poverty

sordid is stronger than all of these in stressing physical or spiritual degradation and abjectness.

a sordid story of murder and revenge

Example Sentences

… the time would come that no human being should be humiliated or be made abject. Katherine Anne Porter, The Never-Ending Wrong, 1977
… my critical intelligence sometimes shrivels to an abject nodding of the head. Lewis H. Lapham, Harper's, May 1971
… nothing seemed to have changed at the Beehive across the years. The same pallid employees were visible in the same abject state of peonage, cringing under the whiplash of overseers. S. J. Perelman, Baby, It's Cold Inside, 1970
They live in abject misery. He offered an abject apology. She thought he was an abject coward. See More
Recent Examples on the Web Maybe classifying something as an abject failure not only puts it into a box that ignores all the good that could come from it, but stains the person at the helm. Journal Sentinel, 27 Apr. 2023 Osei’s federal public defender, Forest O’Neill-Greenberg, asked in a recent court filing that his client be sentenced to time served, describing him as a devoted father with no prior criminal record who grew up in abject poverty in his native country. Travis Andersen, BostonGlobe.com, 21 Mar. 2023 The abject seriousness of Blood and Honey is its undoing, and what marks it as a bitter exercise in stunt marketing. Miles Klee, Rolling Stone, 17 Feb. 2023 The use by the AI makers of RLHF (reinforcement learning with human feedback) has helped quite a bit in curtailing the generative AI from generating abject foulness. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 13 Feb. 2023 In this respect, competitive Excel is similar to other online-gaming communities, many of which are notorious for their abject sexism and abusive behavior. Jacob Stern, The Atlantic, 1 Dec. 2022 Britain’s attempt to reconcile these two strands has produced abject chaos—and the inevitability of a left-wing government. Gerard Baker, WSJ, 24 Oct. 2022 For Hartman, this shows how even abolitionists were complicit in reinforcing conceptions of abject Blackness while decrying slavery. Keeanga-yamahtta Taylor, The New Yorker, 17 Oct. 2022 So any suggestion that the purpose of a QRF was to attack anything in Washington, D.C., on January 6 is an absolute, abject lie. Rachel Weiner, Tom Jackman And Spencer S. Hsu, Anchorage Daily News, 3 Oct. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'abject.' 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, "outcast, rejected, lowly," borrowed from Latin abjectus "downcast, humble, sordid," from past participle of abicere "to throw away, throw down, overcome, abandon," from ab- ab- + -icere, reduced form of jacere "to throw" — more at jet entry 3

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of abject was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near abject

Cite this Entry

“Abject.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abject. Accessed 4 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


ab·​ject ˈab-ˌjekt How to pronounce abject (audio)
: very low in spirit or hope : wretched
abject misery
an abject coward
abjectly adverb
-ˌjek(t)-nəs How to pronounce abject (audio)

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