am·​bi·​tion | \ am-ˈbi-shən How to pronounce ambition (audio) \

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 \ am-​ˈbi-​shən-​ləs How to pronounce ambitionless (audio) \ adjective

Synonyms for ambition

Synonyms: Noun

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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

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 The blame for saddling Nero with his unwanted destiny falls squarely on his mother, Agrippina the Younger, great-granddaughter of the emperor Augustus and a woman of boundless ambition. Gaia Squarci, Smithsonian Magazine, "The New, Nicer Nero," 18 Sep. 2020 You may be filled with ambition and determined to get ahead to make a good showing for loved ones. Tribune Content Agency, oregonlive, "Horoscope for Sept. 12, 2020: Happy birthday Jennifer Hudson; Capricorn, show someone you care," 12 Sep. 2020 What these teen subcultures shared, apart from their fealty to malls, was a lack of traditional ambition. Michael Schulman, The New Yorker, "Bill and Ted and the Bogus Letdown of Gen X Middle Age," 2 Sep. 2020 Finishing one point behind champion Juventus in Serie A underlined the ambition in Antonio Conte's team to rejoin Europe's elite group of clubs and the focus will firmly be on the Champions League next season, not the Europa League. Star Tribune, "Europa League final: Resurgent Inter or Sevilla's record," 20 Aug. 2020 Cleary had grown up in a large and close family in Corvallis, and his ambition was to return home and start his own version of such a family. Washington Post, "19 children and counting," 7 Sep. 2020 Interestingly, Erdogan has an ambition for Turkey to not only eradicate its dependence on energy imports but to become a net exporter of energy, too. Eamon Barrett, Fortune, "Turkey’s push for energy security needs more renewables than gas," 3 Sep. 2020 Your ambition to succeed is probably apparent to your peers, and you will likely be held accountable for your choices. Tribune Content Agency, oregonlive, "Horoscope for Sept. 3, 2020: Aries, you crave social interaction; Aquarius, be cooperative," 3 Sep. 2020 The biggest impediment to this ambition is India’s laws and red-tapism. Niharika Sharma, Quartz India, "What is India trying to achieve from a trade standoff with China?," 2 Sep. 2020 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


1601, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ambition


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


derivative of ambition entry 1

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Time Traveler for ambition

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for ambition

Last Updated

25 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ambition.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for ambition


How to pronounce ambition (audio)

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
US : a desire to do things and be active


am·​bi·​tion | \ am-ˈbi-shən How to pronounce ambition (audio) \

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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