al·​tru·​ism | \ˈal-trü-ˌi-zəm \

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

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Other Words from altruism

altruist \-​trü-​ist \ noun
altruistic \ˌal-​trü-​ˈis-​tik \ adjective
altruistically \-​ti-​k(ə-​)lē \ adverb

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.

Examples of altruism in a Sentence

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 Achenbaum, Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2006 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 Estates, 1988 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 Sheehy, New York Times Magazine, 20 Apr. 1986
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Recent Examples on the Web

The latest example of their altruism came Wednesday night at their most recent stop on the couple’s On the Run II Tour, in Glendale, Arizona. Dan Barna, Teen Vogue, "Jay-Z and Beyoncé Surprise an Arizona Teen With a College Scholarship," 21 Sep. 2018 But altruism may not be enough to solve the shortage. Amy Dockser Marcus, WSJ, "How to Provide Better Incentives to Organ Donors," 24 June 2018 Historically, such interpreters filter every verse through a lens that privileges acquisition of assets and authority over altruism and our own comfort over compassion. Jonathan L. Walton, Time, "Why Authoritarians Love to Quote This Bible Passage," 22 June 2018 So altruism no doubt motivates many donors—but social factors can boost their giving. Dan Ariely, WSJ, "A New Spin on Commitments to Cycling (and Other Exercise)," 20 June 2018 Participants also filled out a number of other questionnaires that measured various dimensions of their personalities such as altruism and self-esteem. Daisy Grewal, Scientific American, "Who Speaks Up in the Face of Uncivil Behavior?," 8 May 2018 China’s recent actions further undermine its professions of altruism and redraw the strategic map. The Economist, "China has militarised the South China Sea and got away with it," 21 June 2018 Cohen and Artemenko have dismissed the notion that their effort to forge peace between Russia and Ukraine was driven by anything other than altruism. Abigail Tracy, The Hive, "Was Viktor Vekselberg Bankrolling Michael Cohen’s Pro-Russia Peace Plan for Ukraine?," 8 June 2018 Philanthropy and altruism are the distinctive traits off the court the NBA has embraced heavily over the years. Karl Bullock,, "Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Dish on Grizz Culture and Community Engagement," 12 Mar. 2018

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.

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First Known Use of altruism

1853, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for altruism

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

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Last Updated

24 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for altruism

The first known use of altruism was in 1853

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More Definitions for altruism



English Language Learners Definition of altruism

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

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with altruism

Spanish Central: Translation of altruism

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

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to make faulty or ineffective

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