as·​cet·​ic ə-ˈse-tik How to pronounce ascetic (audio)
variants or less commonly ascetical
: practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline
an ascetic monk
an ascetic diet
: austere in appearance, manner, or attitude
ascetic noun
ascetically adverb

Did you know?

If you’ve been refraining from adding ascetic to your vocabulary, it’s time to let your hair down and live a little! In other words, be the opposite of ascetic. Ascetic comes from askētikos, a Greek adjective meaning “laborious,” and its earliest meaning in English implies the labor involved in abstention from pleasure, comfort, and self-indulgence as a spiritual discipline. These days, ascetic is also used to describe anyone or anything demonstrating marked restraint, plainness, or simplicity, even when no appeals to the divine or spiritual are attached, making it not unlike another adjective with connections to ancient Greece: spartan.

Choose the Right Synonym for ascetic

severe, stern, austere, ascetic mean given to or marked by strict discipline and firm restraint.

severe implies standards enforced without indulgence or laxity and may suggest harshness.

severe military discipline

stern stresses inflexibility and inexorability of temper or character.

stern arbiters of public morality

austere stresses absence of warmth, color, or feeling and may apply to rigorous restraint, simplicity, or self-denial.

living an austere life in the country

ascetic implies abstention from pleasure and comfort or self-indulgence as spiritual discipline.

the ascetic life of the monks

Examples of ascetic in a Sentence

Patterson's collection begins on the walls of the stairway to his basement. "That's where Cindy draws the line. That's probably a real good idea," he says. Mattsson, ascetic for a bachelor, imposes the same rule on himself. LeBeau, who has never been married, is much less restrained. Tom Harpole, Air & Space, December 1999/January 2000
By Hollywood standards, Calley's career path may seem enigmatic, but then, so is his personality. If Mark Canton, the previous Sony president, was the boastful, Armani-clad big spender, Calley is downright ascetic, a man who disdains Hollywood profligacy. Peter Bart, GQ, August 1997
He converted to Catholicism and, after a long period of intense self-questioning, became a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, which, at the time, was as ascetic and demanding as any monastery of the Middle Ages. Julius Lester, Falling Pieces of the Broken Sky, 1990
Recent Examples on the Web Phoenix spent his years in Hollywood cultivating an image of ascetic wholesomeness. Martha Frankel, SPIN, 31 Oct. 2023 Fabiola, an aristocratic 4th-century Roman physician who became a Christian ascetic, is depicted nearly full length and posed dynamically in front of decorative red walls modeled on those of Pompeii. Mark Jenkins, Washington Post, 13 Oct. 2023 Advertisement Illya was soft-spoken, unflappable, ascetic, mysterious. Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times, 26 Sep. 2023 These were painted in the 16th century, whitewashed during the ascetic rise of Protestantism, and uncovered again as people began to wonder about their history. Sam Sacks, WSJ, 18 Nov. 2022 The bedroom is as ascetic as a monk’s cave—white walls, white sheets, minimal furniture, and unpolished wood floors—save for the arresting artwork hanging on the wall. Ingrid Abramovitch, ELLE Decor, 10 Aug. 2023 Americans may tend to think of Italy as the land of mamma e bambini, brimming with maternal love—in contrast to the ascetic Irish soul that conjured up the Magdalene Laundries. Maria Laurino, The New Republic, 29 June 2023 But Carlos turned out to be something of an ascetic, and that guided his career in several ways. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 25 June 2023 The ascetic diet of slow starvation eliminated body fat — which tends to decay faster than other types of tissue — and built up chemical compounds toxic to bacteria associated with decomposition. Nathaniel Scharping, Discover Magazine, 6 Feb. 2017 See More

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

Word History


Greek askētikos, literally, laborious, from askētēs one that exercises, hermit, from askein to work, exercise

First Known Use

1646, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of ascetic was in 1646


Dictionary Entries Near ascetic

Cite this Entry

“Ascetic.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


as·​cet·​ic ə-ˈset-ik How to pronounce ascetic (audio)
: following a practice of not giving in to one's desires especially as a means of religious discipline
an ascetic way of life
: harshly simple : austere
ascetic surroundings
ascetic noun
asceticism noun
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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