noun, often attributive
al·​tar | \ ˈȯl-tər How to pronounce altar (audio) \

Definition of altar

1 : a usually raised structure or place on which sacrifices are offered or incense is burned in worship often used figuratively to describe a thing given great or undue precedence or value especially at the cost of something elsesacrificed his family life on the altar of career advancement
2a : a tablelike construction used in the Christian church in celebrating the Eucharist
b : a table or place which serves as a center of worship or ritual often used with the to refer to the act of getting marriedThey are destined for the altar.She left him at the altar. [=she decided at the last minute not to go through with her planned marriage to him]

Examples of altar in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Surrounded by candles, figurines and colorful flowers, a large photo of a bobcat was placed on the altar. oregonlive, "A bobcat wandered into an Oregon school. State agencies killed it, and people want to know why.," 13 Nov. 2019 But it is being silenced and diminished in value, in the United States and around the world, sacrificed on the altar of economy and efficiency. Katie Hafner, Washington Post, "He critiqued a callous health-care system. Then he experienced it firsthand.," 8 Nov. 2019 Photographs Photos placed on an altar are always of someone who is deceased. Jennifer Nalewicki, Smithsonian, "The Meaning Behind Six Objects on Día de los Muertos Altars," 1 Nov. 2019 While Eve has sacrificed her own happiness on the altar of obligation, Brendan has floated through his own life as a prince unchallenged by anyone or anything. Michael Phillips,, "‘Mrs. Fletcher’ HBO review: Kathryn Hahn offers a bracing seriocomic lesson in continuing sex-ed," 25 Oct. 2019 Brexit conjures up old fears in Ireland of an English ruling class that will happily sacrifice the Irish on the altar of its own nationalist ambitions. Bill Neely, NBC News, "Northern Ireland's violent past looms over last-ditch Brexit talks," 13 Oct. 2019 Cecilia and David Bradley of Poway place a white rose on the altar for their son, Ryan, during the Mass for Survivors of Suicide Loss Sunday at Our Mother of Confidence Catholic Church in University City. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Mass offers solace for families touched by suicide," 22 Sep. 2019 The blossom of first love sacrificed on the altar of pride and hate., "San Francisco Opera Presents Romeo & Juliet," 3 Sep. 2019 Those three departures seem to sum up everything that is wrong at Newcastle, the sacrifice of football logic on the altar of buy-cheap-sell-high. Jonathan Wilson,, "After a Summer of Departures, Mike Ashley's Actions May Ruin Newcastle's Season," 2 Aug. 2019

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

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First Known Use of altar

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for altar

Middle English alter, from Old English altar, from Latin altare; probably akin to Latin adolēre to burn up

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Time Traveler for altar

Time Traveler

The first known use of altar was before the 12th century

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Statistics for altar

Last Updated

11 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Altar.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 11 December 2019.

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More Definitions for altar


How to pronounce altar (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of altar

: a raised place on which sacrifices and gifts are offered in some religions
: a platform or table used as a center of worship in Christian ceremonies and services


al·​tar | \ ˈȯl-tər How to pronounce altar (audio) \

Kids Definition of altar

1 : a platform or table used as a center of worship
2 : a usually raised place on which sacrifices are offered

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More from Merriam-Webster on altar

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for altar

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with altar

Spanish Central: Translation of altar

Nglish: Translation of altar for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of altar for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about altar

Comments on altar

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


heavy with or as if with moisture

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