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an·​cient ˈān(t)-shənt How to pronounce ancient (audio)
: having had an existence of many years
ancient customs
: of or relating to a remote period, to a time early in history, or to those living in such a period or time
ancient Egyptians
especially : of or relating to the historical period beginning with the earliest known civilizations and extending to the fall of the western Roman Empire in a.d. 476
studied both ancient and modern history
: having the qualities of age or long existence: such as
ancientness noun


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noun (1)

: a person who lived in ancient times:
ancients plural : the civilized people of antiquity
especially : those of the classical nations (see classical sense 2a)
: one of the classical authors
Plutarch and other ancients
: an aged living being
a penniless ancient
: an ancient coin


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noun (2)

archaic : ensign, standard, flag
obsolete : the bearer of an ensign
Choose the Right Synonym for ancient

old, ancient, venerable, antique, antiquated, archaic, obsolete mean having come into existence or use in the more or less distant past.

old may apply to either actual or merely relative length of existence.

old houses
an old sweater of mine

ancient applies to occurrence, existence, or use in or survival from the distant past.

ancient accounts of dragons

venerable stresses the impressiveness and dignity of great age.

the family's venerable patriarch

antique applies to what has come down from a former or ancient time.

collected antique Chippendale furniture

antiquated implies being discredited or outmoded or otherwise inappropriate to the present time.

antiquated teaching methods

archaic implies having the character or characteristics of a much earlier time.

the play used archaic language to convey a sense of period

obsolete may apply to something regarded as no longer acceptable or useful even though it is still in existence.

a computer that makes earlier models obsolete

Example Sentences

Adjective The people in the village still observe the ancient customs of their ancestors. a grove of ancient oak trees The practice was more common in ancient times than it is now. the gods of the ancient Romans She studied both ancient and modern history.
Recent Examples on the Web
For the band of tombaroli, thieves of ancient grave goods and archaeological wonders, the Chimera means redemption from work and the dream of easy wealth. Town & Country, 30 May 2023 Norsepower offers a new twist on an ancient technology: wind. John Flesher, Anchorage Daily News, 28 May 2023 In February, the discovery of an unusual set of ceramic vessels at the Saqqara necropolis shed light on how ancient Egyptians mummified bodies. Charlene Gubash, NBC News, 27 May 2023 Kimiyo Mishima uses ceramics, an ancient craft, to simulate contemporary beverage cans silk-screened with labels in Japanese and English. Mark Jenkins, Washington Post, 26 May 2023 At the 115-year-old Niles Hotel — where ancient bullet holes pock the tin ceiling by the downstairs saloon — getting the creeps is part of the appeal. Hailey Branson-potts, Los Angeles Times, 26 May 2023 But there is limited archaeological evidence of toilets in ancient Israel, with the earliest three examples dating back to the late Bronze Age—all located in palatial areas, indicating that toilets were a privilege afforded primarily to members of ruling groups. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 25 May 2023 The findings suggest that modern humans descended from at least two groups of ancient humans that were closely related and mixed genes on occasion, writes Live Science’s Charles Q. Choi. Will Sullivan, Smithsonian Magazine, 25 May 2023 Shiba Inu is an ancient Japanese breed with a muscular build. Marina Johnson, Detroit Free Press, 25 May 2023
Yet not only is there no Vena amoris (as it was dubbed), but there’s also little evidence to support the idea of ancients routinely wearing engagement rings. Katy Kelleher,, 2 May 2023 See More

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

Word History


Adjective and Noun (1)

Middle English ancien, from Anglo-French, from Vulgar Latin *anteanus, from Latin ante before — more at ante-

Noun (2)

alteration of ensign

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun (1)

1502, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Noun (2)

circa 1556, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of ancient was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near ancient

Cite this Entry

“Ancient.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
an·​cient ˈān-shənt How to pronounce ancient (audio)
: having existed for many years
ancient customs
: of or relating to a period of time long past
ancientness noun


2 of 2 noun
: an aged person
plural : the civilized peoples of ancient times and especially of Greece and Rome

Legal Definition


: existing from a long past date
specifically : having had an uninterrupted existence of 20 to 30 or more years

Note: Things and especially documents that are ancient benefit from a presumption that they are valid even though proof of their validity may be unavailable due to lapse of memory, absence of witnesses, or loss of documents.

More from Merriam-Webster on ancient

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