ca·tas·tro·phe | \ kə-ˈtas-trə-(ˌ)fē \
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 \ adjective
catastrophically \-fi-k(ə-)lē \ 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

One exercise will simulate a mass-casualty catastrophe at hospitals. Frances Robles, New York Times, "FEMA Was Sorely Unprepared for Puerto Rico Hurricane, Report Says," 12 July 2018 One particularly noteworthy theory was the impact of war, natural disasters and large-scale catastrophes. Yonat Shimron, Houston Chronicle, "Younger adults are less religious, and not only in the U.S.," 16 June 2018 Today, some former test sites are facing health hazards and environmental catastrophe. Lovely Umayam, The New Republic, "The Nuclear Industry’s Winners and Losers," 31 May 2018 There are these catastrophes that sometimes lead people to personality change, and there’re negative ones, too. Hope Reese, Longreads, "‘I Was a Storm of Confetti’: Michael Pollan On Why It’s a Good Idea To Lose Your Self," 30 May 2018 For the year, global insured catastrophe losses were about 160% higher than the average of $51 billion for such losses from 2000 to 2016, according to Wells Fargo Securities. Leslie Scism, WSJ, "Even After Last Year’s Terrible Hurricanes, Insurers Are in Solid Shape," 30 June 2018 The catastrophe in Puerto Rico may therefore be a worrying harbinger of a future for other countries and regions facing the effects of climate change. Jane Palmer, CNN, "How to survive climate change: A lesson from Hurricane Maria," 20 Mar. 2018 Even the catastrophe at the heart of The Division is realistic. Mo Mozuch, Newsweek, "How to (Virtually) Survive in Post-Apocalypse Manhattan," 23 Feb. 2016 Trump himself has seemed to promote North Korea as a potential tourist destination, at least once the whole threat of nuclear catastrophe is erased. Adam K. Raymond, Daily Intelligencer, "Sheldon Adelson Is Fantasizing About Building Casinos in North Korea," 11 July 2018

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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Last Updated

16 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for catastrophe

The first known use of catastrophe was in 1540

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More Definitions for catastrophe



English Language Learners Definition of catastrophe

: a terrible disaster


ca·tas·tro·phe | \ kə-ˈta-strə-fē \

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 \

Medical Definition of catastrophe 

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

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Comments on catastrophe

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an open space surrounded by woods

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