am·​a·​teur ˈa-mə-chər How to pronounce amateur (audio)
-(ˌ)tər How to pronounce amateur (audio) -ˌtu̇r How to pronounce amateur (audio)
: one who engages in a pursuit, study, science, or sport as a pastime rather than as a profession
She played soccer as an amateur before turning professional.
a tournament that is open to both amateurs and professionals
: one lacking in experience and competence in an art or science
The people running that company are a bunch of amateurs.
He's a mere amateur when it comes to cooking.
: devotee, admirer
I am a philologist or amateur of the language …Phillip Howard
amateur adjective
an amateur athlete
-ˈtu̇r- How to pronounce amateur (audio)
amateurishly adverb
amateurishness noun
-(ˌ)tər- How to pronounce amateur (audio)

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Should amateur only be used literally?

The earliest sense of amateur ("one that has a marked fondness, liking, or taste") is strongly connected to its roots: the word came into English from the French amateur, which in turn comes from the Latin word for “lover” (amator). This has led some people to assume that the word is properly used only in the sense “one who performs something for love rather than for money.” However, as is the case with so many other English words, amateur may mean two strikingly different things, referring to one who does something for the love of it and also to one who is not terribly competent at something.

Our earliest record of the word's literal sense comes from a 1777 source. By 1790, however, it was already being used in the somewhat condescending extended sense, as seen in George Rous’s description of Edmund Burke as “a bystander, a mere amateur of aristocracy” in his Thoughts on Government.

Choose the Right Synonym for amateur

amateur, dilettante, dabbler, tyro mean a person who follows a pursuit without attaining proficiency or professional status.

amateur often applies to one practicing an art without mastery of its essentials

a painting obviously done by an amateur

; in sports it may also suggest not so much lack of skill but avoidance of direct remuneration.

remained an amateur despite lucrative offers

dilettante may apply to the lover of an art rather than its skilled practitioner but usually implies elegant trifling in the arts and an absence of serious commitment.

had no patience for dilettantes

dabbler suggests desultory habits of work and lack of persistence.

a dabbler who started novels but never finished them

tyro implies inexperience often combined with audacity with resulting crudeness or blundering.

shows talent but is still a mere tyro

Examples of amateur in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The entomologist Gene Kritsky, of Mount St. Joseph University, worked with colleagues in the Center for IT Engagement to develop an app, called Cicada Safari, that uses photographs submitted by amateurs to help map the emergence. Rivka Galchen, The New Yorker, 7 May 2024 This is not the 1960s, when there actually were amateurs, but with college games turning professional, with NIL and the portal, now more than ever there has to be an unquestioned leader swinging the hammer. Nick Canepa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for amateur 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'amateur.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from French, going back to Middle French, "one who loves, lover," borrowed from Latin amātor "lover, enthusiastic admirer, devotee," from amāre "to have affection for, love, be in love, make love to" (of uncertain origin) + -tōr-, -tor, agent suffix

Note: Latin amāre has been explained as an original stative verb with -ē- (hence, *ama-ē-, comparable to *sta-ē- > stāre "to stand"), formed from a root present *ama-, going back to an Indo-European verbal base *h2m̥h3- or *h3m̥h3- "take hold of, grasp" (whence also Sanskrit ámīti "takes hold of, swears," Greek ómnymi, omnýnai "to affirm with an oath," presumably originally "hold fast to an object while swearing"). Semantically the development in Latin is hypothetically "to grasp the hand of" > "to treat as a friend" > "to love." Supporting the presence of the verbal base in Italic would be the form amatens, allegedly, "(they) have seized" or "they have received" in a Sabellic text (the Aes Rapinum of the ancient Marrucini). According to an older theory amāre may be linked to a group of expressive/nursery words, as Latin amita "aunt," *amma "mother" (presumed from derivatives in personal names), Oscan ammai (dative singular) "mother." Another point of comparison with amāre has been Old Irish námae (genitive námat) "enemy," if it goes back to a participial formation *n(e)-h2m̥h3-(e)nt- "not loving" (compare Latin inimicus enemy), though the verbal base *h2emh3- is not otherwise attested in this or any other sense in Celtic. Concerning the derivative amīcus "friend" see note at amiable.

First Known Use

1757, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of amateur was in 1757

Dictionary Entries Near amateur

Cite this Entry

“Amateur.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


am·​a·​teur ˈam-ə-ˌtər How to pronounce amateur (audio) -ət-ər How to pronounce amateur (audio) -ə-ˌt(y)u̇(ə)r How to pronounce amateur (audio)
: a person who takes part in an activity (as a study or sport) for pleasure and not for pay
: a person who engages in something without experience or skill
mistakes made only by an amateur
amateur adjective
ˌam-ə-ˈtər-ish How to pronounce amateur (audio)
amateurishly adverb
amateurishness noun

from French amateur "one who admires or is devoted to something," derived from Latin amare "to love" — related to amorous

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