noun al·tru·ism \ ˈal-trü-ˌi-zəm \
|Updated on: 23 Jun 2018

Definition of altruism

1 : unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others
  • charitable acts motivated purely by altruism
2 : behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species


play \-trü-ist\ noun


play \ˌal-trü-ˈis-tik\ adjective


play \-ti-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

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Examples of altruism in a Sentence

  1. A few skimpy corporate pensions were paid, but they were offered as much as departure incentives designed to promote business efficiency as expressions of altruism. —W. Andrew AchenbaumWilson QuarterlySpring 2006
  2. Mary may have ample resources and prefer that her share pass to her children who have greater need and are in lower income tax brackets. (The progressive nature of our tax laws often fosters such altruism among family members.) —William M. McGovern, Jr. et al.Wills, Trusts and Estates1988
  3. And he still chokes up when he tells the story. Even at that young age, he understood that what his aunt was doing for him was the purest act of altruism. —Gail SheehyNew York Times Magazine20 Apr. 1986

Recent Examples of altruism from the Web

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

altruism Has Roots in Latin and French

Altruism refers to a quality possessed by people whose focus is on something other than themselves, and its root reveals the object of those generous tendencies. Altruism derives from the French word autrui, meaning "other people." Autrui in turn developed from the Old French term autre, which means "other" and which itself comes from Latin alter, also meaning "other." That Latin source eventually caused a curious thing to happen. Under the influence of alter, the French autrui gave rise to the altrui- of both the French altruisme and the English altruism. The English term has been in use since at least the mid-1800s.

Origin and Etymology of altruism

French altruisme, from autrui other people, from Old French, oblique case form of autre other, from Latin alter

Other Zoology Terms

ALTRUISM Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of altruism for English Language Learners

  • : feelings and behavior that show a desire to help other people and a lack of selfishness

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to grant as a privilege or special favor

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