ambition

1 of 2

noun

am·​bi·​tion am-ˈbi-shən How to pronounce ambition (audio)
1
a
: 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
ambitionless adjective

ambition

2 of 2

verb

ambitioned; ambitioning; ambitions

transitive verb

: to have as one's ambition : desire

Did you know?

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.”

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

Examples of ambition in a Sentence

Noun 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
Executives face the frustrating disconnect between ambition and execution, with teams entangled in competing priorities and internal resistance. Forrester, Forbes, 16 Feb. 2024 Villeneuve’s approach is notable for both its sheer ambition and its staggering visual effects. The New Yorker, 16 Feb. 2024 What’s moving about the new project isn’t what’s on-screen, but what its ambition represents. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, 16 Feb. 2024 And sure, maybe one day AI developers will achieve their grand ambition to create a divinely powerful, semi-sentient algorithm that changes society forever. Reece Rogers, WIRED, 15 Feb. 2024 Last year, Microsoft ramped up AI efforts that now include tools for developers like Copilot Studio and Windows AI Studio, while its growing AI ambitions around Windows and Microsoft 365 will surely be front and center again. Amrita Khalid, The Verge, 14 Feb. 2024 In a lot of respects, Kanye is the rap version of Kobe: a fierce individualist who grew up with relative class privilege and transcended that privilege through sheer ambition and courage. Jayson Buford, Rolling Stone, 13 Feb. 2024 In a signal of the administration’s global ambitions, Japan’s NTT Docomo and India’s Reliance Jio were brought in as members of the project, alongside AT&T, Verizon and several U.S. universities. Eva Dou, Washington Post, 12 Feb. 2024 After years where working with Hollywood gave Canadian animators international ambition and scale, the industry now sees itself as a buzzy part of the solution as the era of peak TV begins to fade. Etan Vlessing, The Hollywood Reporter, 10 Feb. 2024
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, 23 May 2017 See More

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

Word History

Etymology

Noun

Middle English ambicioun, borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French ambicion, borrowed from Latin ambitiōn-, ambitiō "act of soliciting for votes, running for public office, striving after popularity, desire for advancement," from ambīre "to encircle, visit in rotation, solicit (political support), seek to obtain" + -tiōn-, -tiō, suffix of verbal action — more at ambient entry 1

Verb

derivative of ambition entry 1

First Known Use

Noun

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

Verb

1601, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near ambition

Cite this Entry

“Ambition.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ambition. Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

ambition

noun
am·​bi·​tion
am-ˈbish-ən
1
a
: an eager desire for social standing, fame, or power
b
: desire to achieve a particular goal : aspiration
2
: the particular goal of ambition
Etymology

Noun

Middle English ambition "desire for power," from early French ambition (same meaning), derived from Latin ambire "to go around," from ambi- "around" and ire "to go"

Word Origin
When political candidates in ancient Rome wanted to be elected, they had to do what modern candidates must do. They had to spend 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 "ambition" 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."

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