noun al·tru·ism \ˈal-trü-ˌi-zəm\

Definition of altruism

  1. 1 :  unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others charitable acts motivated purely by altruism

  2. 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 Achenbaum, Wilson Quarterly, Spring 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 Estates, 1988

  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 Sheehy, New York Times Magazine, 20 Apr. 1986

Did You Know?

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

First Known Use: 1853

Other Zoology Terms

ALTRUISM Defined for English Language Learners


noun al·tru·ism \ˈal-trü-ˌi-zəm\

Definition of altruism for English Language Learners

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

Seen and Heard

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


feeling or affected by lethargy

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