ca·​tas·​tro·​phe kə-ˈta-strə-(ˌ)fē How to pronounce catastrophe (audio)
plural catastrophes
: a momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin
Deforestation and erosion can lead to an ecological catastrophe.
: utter failure : fiasco
the party was a catastrophe
: a violent and sudden change in a feature of the earth
: a violent usually destructive natural event (such as a supernova)
: the final event of the dramatic action especially of a tragedy
catastrophic adjective
catastrophically adverb

Did you know?

When catastrophe was borrowed from Greek in the 1500s it was a term for tearjerkers: the catastrophe was the conclusion or final event of a usually tragic dramatic work. (Greek katastrophē, which means the same thing, comes from katastrephein, meaning "to overturn.") From there, the word moved on to occupy other territory relating to tragic happenings, utter failures, and the worst sort of natural disasters. Just as disaster can range from a calamitous event to one that is merely unsuccessful, catastrophe can refer to what is truly devastating as well as to what is simply deeply disheartening. In Henry IV, Part 2, Shakespeare opted to steer the word away from disaster entirely and plant it squarely in the world of burlesque: "You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe!" May all our catastrophes be of such a comic variety.

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
Recent Examples on the Web The alarm that followed fueled a last-ditch effort by Democratic leaders worried about an election catastrophe to push Biden, in public and in private, to step aside from the nomination in favor of Vice President Kamala Harris or some other Democrat from the next generation. Susan Page, USA TODAY, 16 July 2024 Having emerged from a series of planet-wrecking catastrophes, human society and human biology have been radically reconstituted. Ron Charles, Washington Post, 16 July 2024 Netflix is planning to stream the series in 2025, with The Garden following the stories of patients brought back from the brink of catastrophe through the eyes of those administering live-saving treatment. Jake Kanter, Deadline, 15 July 2024 The existence of a Jewish state is considered a Nakba (catastrophe) by the Palestinian Arabs. Voice Of The People, New York Daily News, 13 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for catastrophe 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'catastrophe.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1540, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Time Traveler
The first known use of catastrophe was in 1540


Dictionary Entries Near catastrophe

Cite this Entry

“Catastrophe.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


ca·​tas·​tro·​phe kə-ˈtas-trə-(ˌ)fē How to pronounce catastrophe (audio)
: a sudden disaster
: complete failure : fiasco
catastrophic adjective
catastrophically adverb

Medical Definition


ca·​tas·​tro·​phe kə-ˈtas-trə-fē How to pronounce catastrophe (audio)
: death (as from an inexplicable cause) before, during, or after an operation

More from Merriam-Webster on catastrophe

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