am·bi·tion | \ am-ˈbi-shən \

Definition of ambition 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1a : an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power With her talent and fierce ambition, she became a very successful actress.

b : desire to achieve a particular end

2 : the object of ambition Her ambition is to start her own business.

3 US : a desire for activity or exertion felt sick and had no ambition


ambitioned; ambitioning; ambitions

Definition of ambition (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to have as one's ambition : desire

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Other words from ambition


ambitionless \-ləs \ adjective

Synonyms for ambition

Synonyms: Noun

ambitiousness, aspiration, go-getting

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Choose the Right Synonym for ambition


ambition, aspiration, pretension mean strong desire for advancement. ambition applies to the desire for personal advancement or preferment and may suggest equally a praiseworthy or an inordinate desire. driven by ambition aspiration implies a striving after something higher than oneself. an aspiration to become president someday pretension suggests ardent desire for recognition of accomplishment often without actual possession of the necessary ability and therefore may imply presumption. has literary pretensions

ambition Has Roots in Roman Politics

When candidates for public office in ancient Rome wanted to be elected, they had to do just what modern candidates must do. They had to spend most of their time going around the city urging the citizens to vote for them. The Latin word for this effort was ambitio, which came from ambire, a verb meaning “to go around.” Since this activity was caused by a desire for honor or power, the word eventually came to mean “the desire for honor or power.” This word came into French and English as ambition in the late Middle Ages. Later its meaning broadened to include “an admirable desire for advancement or improvement” and still later “the object of this desire.”

Examples of ambition in a Sentence


My first ambition as a child was to be in the circus. He lacked ambition and couldn't compete with the others.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

When the economy tanked a decade ago, Ellen Waylonis took a voluntary layoff from her marketing job and pursued her longtime secret ambition: running off to join the circus., "Her circus business embraces the unconventional," 14 July 2018 Bayern have already stated their intent to activate the purchase option and make Rodriguez theirs on a permanent basis, but the Colombian's ambitions appear to have changed now that Julen Lopetegui has replaced Zidane in the Bernabeu hotseat., "James Rodriguez Favours Real Madrid Return Following Zinedine Zidane Departure," 13 July 2018 British advocates of Brexit have long harbored ambitions not just to fragment the European Union but to wreck it. Matthew Rosenberg, New York Times, "In Brexit, Trump Finds a British Reflection of His Own Political Rise," 13 July 2018 Lamont, the party’s endorsed candidate, called on Ganim to serve out his four-year term as Bridgeport mayor instead of diverting his attention to political ambitions. Neil Vigdor,, "Rival Democrats Ned Lamont And Joe Ganim Exchange Barbs In Raucous Debate," 12 July 2018 Alex Wong/Getty Images Peter Strzok, the FBI agent President Donald Trump says was at the center of a secret FBI conspiracy to thwart Trump’s presidential ambitions and elect Hillary Clinton, will testify publicly for the first time on Thursday. Alex Ward, Vox, "How to watch FBI agent Peter Strzok’s testimony in front of Congress," 12 July 2018 Yet despite the billionaire backers quaffing champagne at the Hong Kong IPO, the company’s name remains virtually unknown in the U.S.–a major obstacle to Lei’s stated ambition to create a Jobsian company that impacts the world. Charlie Cambell/beijing, Time, "Lei Jun Wants to Be China’s Answer to Steve Jobs. But Trump’s Trade War Is Getting In His Way," 12 July 2018 The KFC Yum Center is a bold monument to Louisville's civic pride and ambition. Allison Ross, The Courier-Journal, "How KFC Yum Center became Louisville's billion-dollar baby," 12 July 2018 These challenges & obstacles give me the motivation, ambition & drive to keep pushing forward. Benjy Egel, sacbee, "Taqueria Maya owners open Mexican restaurant with a millennial twist in railyard," 12 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

But the Kushners’ empire, like Trump’s, was underwritten by years of dealing in much more modestly ambitioned properties. Alec Macgillis/propublica, New York Times, "Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire," 23 May 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ambition.' 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 ambition


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1664, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ambition


Middle English, from Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin ambition-, ambitio, literally, act of soliciting for votes, from ambire to go around, solicit


see ambition entry 1

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Phrases Related to ambition

life's ambition

Statistics for ambition

Last Updated

6 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for ambition

The first known use of ambition was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for ambition



English Language Learners Definition of ambition

: a particular goal or aim : something that a person hopes to do or achieve

: a desire to be successful, powerful, or famous

: a desire to do things and be active


am·bi·tion | \ am-ˈbi-shən \

Kids Definition of ambition

1 : a desire for success, honor, or power

2 : something a person hopes to do or achieve My ambition is to become a jet pilot.

3 : the drive to do things and be active I'm tired and have no ambition.

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Comments on ambition

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


to make amends

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