chief·​tain | \ˈchēf-tən \

Definition of chieftain 

: a chief especially of a band, tribe, or clan

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from chieftain

chieftainship \-​ˌship \ noun

Examples of chieftain in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

The incumbent, President Michel Temer, is among the old-guard leaders who have become widely despised by the electorate amid mounting reports of systemic corruption by the political chieftains who have run Brasília for decades. Shasta Darlington, New York Times, "From Janitor to Chief Justice: Could Joaquim Barbosa be Brazil’s Next President?," 20 Apr. 2018 At a time when the storied Vice Lords street gang controlled nearly all of the West Side, House — a stout, intimidating, yet charming and approachable chieftain — could compel order from even the angriest young men on the block. William Lee,, "Fierce gang leader went from death row to respected 'Mayor of Chicago Avenue'," 29 June 2018 But in Virginia, the candidates who were favored by party chieftains and seen as most electable bested more liberal insurgents. James Hohmann, Washington Post, "The Daily 202: Mark Sanford’s primary loss shows the peril of crossing Trump," 13 June 2018 Since Trump’s election, the ranks of Never Trump have dramatically shrunk as Republicans, and especially conservatives, have made their peace with the once-terrifying chieftain, or simply kept their mouths shut. Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, "DHS Secretary Nielsen is Not MAGA Enough for Trump’s White House," 11 May 2018 Topping the cast in yet another bombastic performance is veteran funnyman Bob Fetes as the opera chieftain, straining in his fury until his bald pate takes on a reddish glow. Tom Titus,, "On Theater: A wild encore for ‘Tenor’ in Newport Beach," 7 June 2018 Calabrese’s brother Nick testified during the Family Secrets trial that DiFronzo had been among the dozen or more men who fatally beat mob chieftain Anthony Spilotro and his brother Michael in 1986. Bob Goldsborough,, "Reputed Chicago Outfit boss John DiFronzo dies at 89," 30 May 2018 Since medieval times, when 36 chieftains chose it as a gathering spot, the country has held frequent general assembly sessions in the park. Liz Dufour, USA TODAY, "WOW Air stopover: Photos of 82 hours in Iceland," 25 May 2018 These renegade Republicans risk retribution from party chieftains by signing onto this petition over the strenuous public and private objections of leadership. James Hohmann, Washington Post, "The Daily 202: Immigration is tearing Republicans apart," 17 May 2018

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

See More

First Known Use of chieftain

14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for chieftain

Middle English chieftaine, from Anglo-French chevetain, from Late Latin capitaneus chief — more at captain

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about chieftain

Statistics for chieftain

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for chieftain

The first known use of chieftain was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for chieftain



English Language Learners Definition of chieftain

: a leader of a tribe or clan


chief·​tain | \ˈchēf-tən \

Kids Definition of chieftain

: a chief especially of a band, tribe, or clan

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on chieftain

Spanish Central: Translation of chieftain

Nglish: Translation of chieftain for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about chieftain

Comments on chieftain

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


living or existing for a long time

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!