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

Essential Meaning of catastrophe

: a terrible disaster The oil spill was an environmental catastrophe. Experts fear a humanitarian catastrophe if food isn't delivered to the refugees soon. See More Examplesa global/nuclear/economic catastrophe an area on the brink of catastropheHide

Full 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

Other Words from catastrophe

catastrophic \ ˌka-​tə-​ˈsträ-​fik How to pronounce catastrophe (audio) \ adjective
catastrophically \ ˌka-​tə-​ˈsträ-​fi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce catastrophe (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 The near catastrophe turned out to have a happy ending for all. The Washington Post, Arkansas Online, 28 Nov. 2021 Thursday’s catastrophe recalled other coal mining disasters with high casualties: In 2010, the Raspadskaya mine in the Kemerovo region was hit by two blasts, believed caused by a methane gas buildup, killing 91 people. Washington Post, 26 Nov. 2021 The National Institutes of Health recently launched the Antivirals for Pandemics Program to accelerate the development of novel treatments for COVID-19 and other viruses that could cause another global catastrophe. Serhat Gümrükçü, Fortune, 22 Nov. 2021 The October spill closed beaches from Huntington to San Clemente and sparked fears of an environmental catastrophe that would kill wildlife and befoul beaches for years. Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times, 20 Nov. 2021 The search for the origins of the greatest public health catastrophe in a century has fueled geopolitical battles, with few new facts emerging in recent months to resolve the question. New York Times, 18 Nov. 2021 That's to prevent worsening climate change impacts and to steer the world away from climate catastrophe. Ivana Kottasová And Angela Dewan, CNN, 14 Nov. 2021 In just seven delicate stanzas, the poem takes in the sweep of twentieth-century catastrophe and the fragile world that sustains us. Daniel Drake, The New York Review of Books, 13 Nov. 2021 Officer Parra did point to one adjustment festival planners made after the Houston catastrophe. Elias Leight, Rolling Stone, 12 Nov. 2021

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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Dictionary Entries Near catastrophe



catastrophe theory

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Last Updated

3 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Catastrophe.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2021.

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More Definitions for catastrophe


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

More from Merriam-Webster on catastrophe

Nglish: Translation of catastrophe for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of catastrophe for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about catastrophe


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