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 Navigating Hulu’s current interface is a catastrophe. Popular Science, "An absurd number of people still play Microsoft Solitaire every month," 23 May 2020 But now, with rising unemployment and the threat of an economic catastrophe, South Africa has begun to reopen in a five-stage process. Sarah Wild, Scientific American, "Antipoaching Tech Tracks COVID-19 Flare-Ups in South Africa," 12 May 2020 Democrats are betting that Trump, who claimed credit for stock market gains and a 50-year low in unemployment, won’t be able to obfuscate his way out of an economic and health catastrophe. Los Angeles Times, "Trump’s new 2020 message — it’s not my fault," 8 May 2020 In Italy and Spain, a cultural tendency toward intergenerational living appears to have been enhanced by an economic catastrophe that forced legions of jobless people to take refuge with their parents. Peter S. Goodman, New York Times, "Are Adults Living With Parents Making the Pandemic More Deadly?," 8 Apr. 2020 That’s why there are still important lessons to be learnt from the catastrophe of 1918. Howard Phillips, Quartz Africa, "South Africa bungled the Spanish flu in 1918 and those lessons are still relevant today," 15 Mar. 2020 Ukraine knows all too well how an air catastrophe can stir up a maelstrom of rumors and disinformation. Washington Post, "Iran crash and missile claims put Ukraine president in bind," 10 Jan. 2020 The blame the students attached to the conservative gun lobby for this catastrophe is one reason their society has 75 members and is growing. The Economist, "Fahrenheit Wisconsin," 18 Dec. 2019 We’ve been led to believe climate change is a bad thing that will impact our lives in the future, rather than an ongoing catastrophe that will last for generations, even if the world stopped producing carbon tomorrow morning. Beth Py-lieberman, Smithsonian, "Smithsonian Scholars Pick Their Favorite Books of 2019," 28 Nov. 2019

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

26 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Catastrophe.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Jun. 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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