noun ca·tas·tro·phe \ kə-ˈtas-trə-(ˌ)fē \
|Updated on: 8 Jul 2018

Definition of catastrophe

plural catastrophes
1 : a momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin
  • Deforestation and erosion can lead to an ecological catastrophe.
2 : utter failure : fiasco
  • the party was a catastrophe
3 a : a violent and sudden change in a feature of the earth
b : a violent usually destructive natural event (such as a supernova)
4 : the final event of the dramatic action especially of a tragedy


play \ˌka-tə-ˈsträ-fik\ adjective


play \-fi-k(ə-)lē\ adverb

catastrophe was our Word of the Day on 04/28/2011. Hear the podcast!

Examples of catastrophe in a Sentence

  1. The oil spill was an environmental catastrophe.

  2. Experts fear a humanitarian catastrophe if food isn't delivered to the refugees soon.

  3. an area on the brink of catastrophe

Recent Examples of catastrophe from the Web

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

Did You Know?

When English speakers first borrowed the Greek word catastrophe in the 1500s, they used it for the conclusion or final event of a dramatic work, especially of a tragedy. By the early 1600s, "catastrophe" was being used more generally of any generally unhappy conclusion or disastrous or ruinous end. By the 18th century, "catastrophe" had come to denote truly devastating events, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Finally, it came to be applied to things that are only figuratively catastrophic - burnt dinners, lost luggage, really bad movies, etc.

Origin and Etymology of catastrophe

Greek katastrophē, from katastrephein to overturn, from kata- + strephein to turn

CATASTROPHE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of catastrophe for English Language Learners

  • : a terrible disaster

CATASTROPHE Defined for Kids


noun ca·tas·tro·phe \ kə-ˈta-strə-fē \

Definition of catastrophe for Students

1 : a sudden disaster
  • The oil spill was an environmental catastrophe.
2 : complete failure : fiasco
  • The party was a catastrophe.

Medical Dictionary


noun ca·tas·tro·phe \ kə-ˈtas-trə-fē \

medical Definition of catastrophe

: death (as from an inexplicable cause) before, during, or after an operation

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to beat or defeat soundly

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