ˈkast How to pronounce caste (audio)
 also  ˈkäst
: one of the hereditary social classes in Hinduism that restrict the occupation of their members and their association with the members of other castes
: a division of society based on differences of wealth, inherited rank or privilege, profession, occupation, or race
: the position conferred by caste standing : prestige
art and religion have lost casteF. L. Baumer
: a system of rigid social stratification characterized by hereditary status, endogamy, and social barriers sanctioned by custom, law, or religion
: a specialized form (such as the worker of an ant or bee) of a polymorphic social insect that carries out a particular function in the colony
soldier castes for fighting enemy ants
casteism noun

Examples of caste in a Sentence

He was from a higher caste. a member of the upper caste
Recent Examples on the Web Popular on Variety The chain-smoking, foul-mouthed Renuka is an ill-fitting puzzle piece in any corner of Indian society, whose deeply conservative dynamics are illuminated through subtle details that hint at the religious and caste structures that make up the movie’s backdrop. Siddhant Adlakha, Variety, 17 May 2024 To give you an idea, travelers in Japan can hone their ninja skills at the caste from You Only Live Twice (1967) or take a boat ride around an eerie industrial island that was Raoul Silva’s lair in Skyfall (2012). Rachel Cormack, Robb Report, 6 May 2024 Last week, for example, a doctored video of India’s home minister promising to dismantle benefits to lower castes sparked a political firestorm and led to the arrest of several people allegedly involved in its creation. Fahad Shah, The Christian Science Monitor, 3 May 2024 There are swipes at the way society’s underdogs and outcasts are treated by those who rule, how religious and cultural differences get politicized and then weaponized in the name of power and profit, and how a caste system continues to warp the humanity of all involved. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 12 Mar. 2024 Upon their release, the convicts had been garlanded with flowers by well-wishers and praised by a BJP lawmaker as good Brahmins, the highest Hindu caste. Anant Gupta, Washington Post, 4 Mar. 2024 Rather than framing Kid’s community as an oppressed caste, religion, or tribe, the only visible culturally specific moment involves the villagers enjoying a marionette re-telling of the Ramayana, which is interrupted by incendiary violence. Siddhant Adlakha, TIME, 5 Apr. 2024 As members of the majority atop the caste system, racial advantage transmitted invisibly to them. Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times, 13 Mar. 2024 The presence of religious tradition looms large over events, calling into question the rigid order of caste and money foisted upon Saharsh’s family and peers — an order which every legal and social structure bends to preserve. Siddhant Adlakha, Variety, 26 Feb. 2024

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

Word History


borrowed from Portuguese casta "breed, lineage, family, hereditary social class in India," of uncertain origin

Note: Portuguese casta has exact counterparts in Spanish and Catalan casta, none of which are attested before the fifteenth century. The word has traditionally been taken as descending from a feminine noun derivative of Latin castus "free from (the thing named), untainted by vice, pure" (see chaste), though this etymology has been resisted by Joan Coromines, who points out that the earliest uses do not imply purity (see Diccionario crítico etymológico castellano e hispánico, s.v.). The phrase hacer casta (hacer "to do, make") means "to breed (animals)"—likewise, the phrase para casta "for breeding." The word would seem to refer to both the act of breeding and the succession of things bred. Coromines is surely correct in noting that Latin castus has influenced the later semantic development of casta. However, his hypothesis that an unattested Gothic word cognate with Old Icelandic kǫs, kǫstr "heap, pile" is the source of Iberian Romance casta is not convincing, The senses of the English noun cast entry 2 that he sees as most relevant, such as "a set of characters or persons" or "characteristic quality," are all late developments from the verb meaning "to throw" and can scarcely be traced back to proto-Germanic.

First Known Use

circa 1624, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of caste was circa 1624

Dictionary Entries Near caste

Cite this Entry

“Caste.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


: one of the classes into which the Hindu people of India were formerly divided
: a division of society based upon differences of wealth, rank, or occupation
: social rank : prestige
: a specialized form of a social insect that carries out a particular purpose in the colony
the worker caste in a colony of honeybees

More from Merriam-Webster on caste

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!