noun, often attributive
cir·​cus | \ ˈsər-kəs How to pronounce circus (audio) \

Definition of circus

1a : a large arena enclosed by tiers of seats on three or all four sides and used especially for sports or spectacles (such as athletic contests, exhibitions of horsemanship, or in ancient times chariot racing)
b : a public spectacle
2a : an arena often covered by a tent and used for variety shows usually including feats of physical skill, wild animal acts, and performances by clowns
b : a circus performance
c : the physical plant, livestock, and personnel of such a circus
d : something suggestive of a circus (as in frenzied activity, sensationalism, theatricality, or razzle-dazzle) a media circus
3a obsolete : circle, ring
b British : a usually circular area at an intersection of streets

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from circus

circusy \ ˈsər-​kə-​sē How to pronounce circusy (audio) \ adjective

Examples of circus in a Sentence

He worked for a small circus. We're going to the circus.
Recent Examples on the Web The alternative is allowing Trump to be the ringmaster of a circus that could last for months. Matthew Walther, TheWeek, "Trump is getting the band back together," 17 Jan. 2020 Jones has made the job of coaching the Cowboys a circus during his years as the owner. Andy Nesbitt, For The Win, "Jerry Jones is the one to blame for this mess that is the Dallas Cowboys," 6 Dec. 2019 But now the park was somehow both a wild canine circus sabotaging property values and a beloved gathering space for only the politest of pooches. Jessica Contrera,, "‘NO EXCESSIVE BARKING’: A Maryland dog park divides the rich and powerful," 28 Aug. 2019 Offered through this powerhouse were celluloid dolls, velvet dolls, card games, drums and even a circus pull toy. Brenda Yenke,, "Mickey’s world transcends the decades: Yenke Peddler antiques," 1 Aug. 2019 After so much time with the club, Benzema is able to keep calm, knowing that obstacles are inevitable–especially at a circus like Real Madrid. Luis Miguel Echegaray,, "Stars Old and New All Have a Stake in Remaking Real Madrid," 26 July 2019 One hundred years after his birth, the Italian auteur remains influential in world cinema FROM VIA VENETO to ancient Rome, from circuses to fascist rallies, no one has captured the Bel Paese on screen in quite the same fashion as Federico Fellini. The Economist, "Beyond neorealism Federico Fellini’s beautiful confusion," 20 Jan. 2020 Howard then put the game away with a personal 11-0 run that included a close jumper, a step-back three-pointer, a three-point play on a circus layup and another triple on a fast break. Ben Steele, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Marquette 85, Xavier 65: Markus Howard keys second-half run," 15 Jan. 2020 Prescott might be the victim of the circus type of season the Cowboys have had. Andy Nesbitt, For The Win, "Dak Prescott is the biggest Pro Bowl snub thanks to Aaron Rodgers," 18 Dec. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'circus.' 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 circus

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for circus

Middle English, from Latin, circle, circus — more at circle

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about circus

Time Traveler for circus

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for circus

Last Updated

7 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Circus.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Feb. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for circus


How to pronounce circus (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of circus

: a traveling show that is often performed in a tent and that typically includes trained animals, clowns, acrobats, etc.
informal : a situation or event that is very busy, lively, and confusing and that attracts a lot of attention
British : a circular area where several streets meet


cir·​cus | \ ˈsər-kəs How to pronounce circus (audio) \

Kids Definition of circus

: a traveling show that often takes place under a tent and that usually includes acts performed by acrobats, clowns, and trained animals

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on circus

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


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

More Confusing Words—Quiz

  • cats on impossible timber
  • The magician ______ moved the selected card to the top of the deck.
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


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!