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

Example Sentences

He was from a higher caste. a member of the upper caste
Recent Examples on the Web Gadling, a 53-year-old lawyer and father of two, is a member of the Dalit community, the lowest rung of India’s caste hierarchy. Washington Post, 6 July 2021 Travancore’s caste system was rigid even by the standards of the 19th century, and the majority of the population lived in conditions that the British administrators thought were cruel. Nilakantan Rs, Quartz, 5 Jan. 2023 One strange feature of our present economic order—especially visible in an educated and economically productive city such as Boston—is the solidification of a caste of hard-working professionals at the top of the income pyramid. Charlie Tyson,, 2 Dec. 2022 Born in 1954, Frazier grew up at a time when the country still struggled to see Black people as full citizens rather than a subordinate racial caste. Douglas Haynes, Forbes, 28 Feb. 2021 Despite its origins in Hinduism, the caste system has since spread to other South Asian religious communities. Harmeet Kaur, CNN, 7 Dec. 2022 On a macro scale, though, forming this collective mirrors the work Poitier and Harry Belafonte did in their time, talking about the injustice of the caste system in Hollywood. Angelique Jackson, Variety, 5 Dec. 2022 Harvard University instituted caste protections for student workers last year as part of its contract with the Harvard Graduate Student Union. Harmeet Kaur, CNN, 7 Dec. 2022 But the push for caste-equity has been sweeping schools and institutions all over the U.S. in the last few years. Sakshi Venkatraman, NBC News, 5 Dec. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'caste.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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

1613, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of caste was in 1613

Dictionary Entries Near caste

Cite this Entry

“Caste.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Feb. 2023.

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

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