ceno·​taph ˈse-nə-ˌtaf How to pronounce cenotaph (audio)
: a tomb or a monument erected in honor of a person or group of persons whose remains are elsewhere

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The word cenotaph is derived from the Greek kenos taphos, meaning "empty tomb." A cenotaph is a monument, sometimes in the form of a tomb, to a person or group of persons buried elsewhere. Ancient Greek writings tell of many cenotaphs, although none of them survives. Existing cenotaphs of this type are found in churches (for example, in Santa Croce in Florence, where there are memorials to Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo). The term is now applied to national war memorials.

Examples of cenotaph in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The building features a number of elaborate interior details, including crypts and tombs, cenotaphs, iwans, chhatris, and minarets, as well as sarcophagus elements. Kathleen Felton, Travel + Leisure, 8 Feb. 2024 This epigram is quoted by Herodotus as the second of three displayed at the site of Thermopylae on monuments or cenotaphs. A.e. Stallings, The New York Review of Books, 17 Aug. 2023 In the midst of tragedy, Back Home in Lahaina has become something of a cenotaph to the lost lives, buildings and history of the culturally rich town. Lucas Kwan Peterson, Los Angeles Times, 16 Aug. 2023 Most striking is that the cenotaph, located on the edge of the cemetery, features Morgan facing outward, away from the other graves. Colin Dickey, Smithsonian Magazine, 11 July 2023 Military officers carried her cenotaph along a red carpet that stretched for four blocks of cobblestoned streets from the Luxembourg Garden to the Pantheon. Sylvie Corbet and Jeffrey Schaeffer, USA TODAY, 1 Dec. 2021 Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728–1799) is celebrated for designing a spherical building that looks at first sight like a nuclear reactor but turns out to be a cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton. James Fenton, The New York Review of Books, 14 May 2020 Air force officers carried her cenotaph along a red carpet that stretched for four blocks of cobblestoned streets from the Luxembourg Gardens to the Pantheon. The Associated. Press, Arkansas Online, 1 Dec. 2021 It was made in 1784 by Étienne-Louis Boullée, who imagined a cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton, the preeminent natural philosopher of his day. Globe Staff, BostonGlobe.com, 6 Oct. 2022

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

Word History


French cénotaphe, from Latin cenotaphium, from Greek kenotaphion, from kenos empty + taphos tomb

First Known Use

1578, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of cenotaph was in 1578

Dictionary Entries Near cenotaph

Cite this Entry

“Cenotaph.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cenotaph. Accessed 19 Jun. 2024.

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