ad hominem

ad ho·​mi·​nem | \ (ˈ)ad-ˈhä-mə-ˌnem How to pronounce ad hominem (audio) , -nəm \

Definition of ad hominem

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect an ad hominem argument
2 : marked by or being an attack on an opponent's character rather than by an answer to the contentions made made an ad hominem personal attack on his rival

ad hominem


Definition of ad hominem (Entry 2 of 2)

: in an ad hominem manner was arguing ad hominem

Keep scrolling for more

Did You Know?


Ad hominem literally means "to the person" in New Latin (Latin as first used in post-medieval texts). In centuries past, this adjective usually modified "argument." An "argument ad hominem" (or "argumentum ad hominem," to use the full New Latin phrase) was a valid method of persuasion by which a person took advantage of his or her opponent's interests or feelings in a debate, instead of just sticking to general principles. The newer sense of "ad hominem," which suggests an attack on an opponent's character instead of his or her argument, appeared only in the last century, but it is the sense more often heard today. The word still refers to putting personal issues above other matters, but perhaps because of its old association with "argument," "ad hominem" has become, in effect, "against the person."

Examples of ad hominem in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb In 1992 and 1993, O’Connor was one of the churchmen who received several of the seven letters, most of which were postmarked in Newark, written in capital letters, and composed in language that mingled ad hominem vitriol with clerical argot. Paul Elie, The New Yorker, "What the New Vatican Report Shows About the Church’s Failures in Addressing Sexual Abuse," 20 Nov. 2020 The rest of the piece is made up of hyperbole and ad hominem attacks. Cameron Hilditch, National Review, "Buckley, Calhoun, and I," 28 Oct. 2020 Trump has traditionally been far more likely to level ad hominem attacks while standing alone at a podium or during an interview than while sharing a stage with the subject of his barbs. John Fritze, USA TODAY, "President Donald Trump and Joe Biden brace for vicious match-up in first presidential debate in Cleveland," 28 Sep. 2020 Democrats seem stunned when their GOP opponents pillory them with lies, rage and ad hominem attacks. Robert B. Reich, Star Tribune, "Politics requires the ability both to govern and to fight," 17 Aug. 2020 Dangerous demagogues use ad hominem appeals to mock and delegitimize legitimate opposition. Jennifer Mercieca, The Conversation, "A field guide to Trump’s dangerous rhetoric," 19 June 2020 Despite some pointed comments throughout the debate, the candidates never raised their voices or resorted to ad hominem attacks. Morgan Edwards, Washington Post, "12th Senate District candidates debate issues, controversies," 21 Oct. 2019 Her detractors increasingly rely on ad hominem attacks to blunt her influence. Scott Waldman, Scientific American, "Climate Deniers Launch Personal Attacks on Teen Activist," 9 Aug. 2019 Unfortunately, Guyatt’s review, with its ad hominem attacks, dogmatic factionalism, and historical lesions, apparently has another agenda. Nicholas Guyatt, The New York Review of Books, "‘No Property in Man’: An Exchange," 6 June 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ad hominem.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of ad hominem


1598, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1588, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ad hominem


borrowed from New Latin, literally, "to the person"


derivative of ad hominem entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about ad hominem

Time Traveler for ad hominem

Time Traveler

The first known use of ad hominem was in 1588

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about ad hominem

Statistics for ad hominem

Cite this Entry

“Ad hominem.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Apr. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Comments on ad hominem

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


Test Your Vocabulary

The Exceptions Quiz III

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

 AlphaBear 2

Spell words. Make bears.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!