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

As Miriam Berger writes for Vox, during Israel’s war for independence, which Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, at least 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their homes. Alexia Underwood, Vox, "The US plans to end all support for UN agency that aids Palestinian refugees," 31 Aug. 2018 Some argue that this catastrophe, known now as the Holodomor, wasn't a bureaucratic failure but a sinister success—an act of genocide designed to wreck Ukrainian hopes for independence. Tony Adler, Chicago Reader, "The new Holodomor drama Sickle isn't sharp enough to draw much blood," 12 July 2018 Nothing flashy, but minor masterpieces nonetheless, infinitely more enjoyable than Mute, not to mention Jones’ other recent catastrophe, Warcraft. Jason Kehe, WIRED, "Sci-Fi Invades Netflix—as They Both Invade Your Home," 9 July 2018 The state Attorney General’s Office, which will prosecute the case, said Cortez has been charged with four counts each of weapons of mass destruction, risking a catastrophe, and carrying explosives. Joseph A. Gambardello,, "Delco man arrested with cache of explosives like those used in Philly ATM blasts," 5 July 2018 Such a trip generally isn't a catastrophe because there's a market for replacing that power: AEMO will pay extra for additional Frequency Control Ancillary Services to maintain the preferred average frequency. Megan Geuss, Ars Technica, "Australian Energy Market Operator likes its new Tesla battery quite a bit," 11 Apr. 2018 California has always been prone to wildfires, but insurers say the risk is increasing as fire-prone areas have become increasingly populated and a warming planet adds new uncertainty to natural catastrophes. Nicole Friedman, WSJ, "California Homeowners Face Higher Prices for a Scarce Commodity: Wildfire Insurance," 10 Feb. 2019 The Doomsday Clock, moved to two minutes from midnight in January, is a visual representation of how close the Bulletin believes the world is to catastrophe. Kathleen Ronayne, The Seattle Times, "California Gov. Jerry Brown joins Doomsday Clock group," 25 Oct. 2018 But in Philadelphia, what looked like a catastrophe in the making after a horrid first week for Kapler has stabilized and soared. Staff,, "Nine Innings: David Price's New Vantage Point, Joe Mauer's Hall of Fame Candidacy and a Possible Reboot of the '86 Postseason," 16 Apr. 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

13 May 2019

Look-up Popularity

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 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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Comments on catastrophe

What made you want to look up catastrophe? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


a strong desire or propensity

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