ca·​tas·​tro·​phe | \ kə-ˈta-strə-(ˌ)fē How to pronounce catastrophe (audio) \
plural catastrophes

Definition of catastrophe

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
3a : 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

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Other Words from catastrophe

catastrophic \ ˌka-​tə-​ˈsträ-​fik How to pronounce catastrophic (audio) \ adjective
catastrophically \ ˌka-​tə-​ˈsträ-​fi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce catastrophically (audio) \ adverb

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.

Examples of catastrophe in a Sentence

The oil spill was an environmental catastrophe. Experts fear a humanitarian catastrophe if food isn't delivered to the refugees soon. an area on the brink of catastrophe
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Recent Examples on the Web Even as nonprofits hand out food and cities embrace temporary bans on evictions, some fear a catastrophe awaits. Taylor Kate Brown,, "Bay Briefing: Is it safe to get back on the bus? What about the ferry?," 7 July 2020 Many predicted a catastrophe in South Africa by now, particularly with its high burden of HIV and tuberculosis cases, and its overburdened health system. David Mckenzie, CNN, "Africa's battle against Covid-19 will be won or lost here," 6 July 2020 Public health experts saw a catastrophe in hospitalizations looming weeks before Metro Health did. Brian Chasnoff,, "‘When we’re full, we’re full’: COVID-19 pushes San Antonio hospitals to the limit," 5 July 2020 With the catastrophe of magical eruptions finally quelled, Gabrielle Dupres (Louriza Tronco) — now a werewolf sporting Midnight’s hide — wolfs outs and murders Alyssa in Order headquarters. Ariana Romero,, "What Does The Order Finale’s Lilith Twist Mean For Season 3?," 24 June 2020 The coronavirus pandemic is a rolling catastrophe for all of the performing arts, and arguably the genre that could suffer the most is classical music. David Rohde, WSJ, "Classical Music’s Opportune Moment," 23 June 2020 The decline in fact starts before catastrophe strikes, because weather forecasters, and hence investors, can see storms coming. The Economist, "Daily chart Why are investors not pricing in climate-change risk?," 2 June 2020 Scott estimated the fund was about 17 percent of the budget which would easily cover 90 days of operating expenses in the event of a catastrophe. David Taylor, Houston Chronicle, "Lone Star College System fares well in pandemic," 26 June 2020 The Max crisis was already certain to undermine Boeing's profitability and swell its debt at least into 2021 before the second catastrophe struck. Shawn Tully, Fortune, "6 reasons Boeing’s financial picture may be brighter than most assume," 20 June 2020

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.

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First Known Use of catastrophe

1540, in the meaning defined at sense 4

History and Etymology for catastrophe

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

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Time Traveler for catastrophe

Time Traveler

The first known use of catastrophe was in 1540

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Statistics for catastrophe

Last Updated

11 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Catastrophe.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for catastrophe


How to pronounce catastrophe (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of catastrophe

: a terrible disaster


ca·​tas·​tro·​phe | \ kə-ˈta-strə-fē How to pronounce catastrophe (audio) \

Kids Definition of catastrophe

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


ca·​tas·​tro·​phe | \ kə-ˈtas-trə-fē How to pronounce catastrophe (audio) \

Medical Definition of catastrophe

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

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