cel·​i·​bate | \ ˈse-lə-bət How to pronounce celibate (audio) \

Definition of celibate

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: of, relating to, or characterized by celibacy:
a : not engaging in or characterized by sexual intercourse leading a celibate life Because he regarded sex outside marriage as sinful, he remained celibate all his life.— Faith McNulty He pursued her avidly, writing her as many as three letters a day and even offering a celibate marriage to appease her fear of sex.— Ruth Franklin I'd been celibate for so long, what was another year without sex?— Sue Grafton
b : abstaining from marriage and sex especially because of a religious vow Father Hawkins, for one, believes the priesthood would benefit from a broader mix of married and celibate priests.— Daniel McGinn I have met a few celibate monks in whom celibacy is truly a gift, a charism from which all—married or not—can learn …— John Garvey The Shakers, a celibate religious community, stress pacifism, equality and the communal ownership of material goods.— Lyn Riddle


plural celibates

Definition of celibate (Entry 2 of 2)

: a person who lives in celibacy : a celibate person:
a : an unmarried person especially : one who abstains from marriage because of a religious vow priestly celibates
b : a person who abstains from sexual intercourse … described himself as "a reluctant celibate" who had not been with a woman for four years …— Janice Kennedy

Examples of celibate in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun But this ostensibly confirmed celibate oozes a gentle, undeniable sensuality. Ben Brantley, New York Times, 13 Oct. 2016

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'celibate.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of celibate


1724, in the meaning defined above


1769, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for celibate


Latin caeleb-, caelebs "not having a spouse, unmarried" (perhaps a derivative from *kail-i- "whole," going back to Indo-European *keh2i-lo-) + -ate entry 3 — more at whole entry 1

Note: The traditional hypothesis that caelebs goes back to a compound *kai̯elo-libh- (with the first element compared to Sanskrit kevala- "exclusively oneʼs own, alone, whole" and the second to Gothic liban "to live," English live entry 1) is now considered dubious.


derivative of celibate entry 1

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The first known use of celibate was in 1724

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Cite this Entry

“Celibate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/celibate. Accessed 17 Jun. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of celibate

used to describe a person who is not married and does not have sex

More from Merriam-Webster on celibate

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for celibate

Nglish: Translation of celibate for Spanish Speakers


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