con·​clave ˈkän-ˌklāv How to pronounce conclave (audio)
: a private meeting or secret assembly
especially : a meeting of Roman Catholic cardinals secluded continuously while choosing a pope
The conclave elected the new pope on the fifth ballot.
: a gathering of a group or association
the annual conclave of newspaper publishers

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Conclave comes from a Latin word meaning "room that can be locked up" (from the Latin com-, "together," and clavis, "key"). The English conclave formerly had the same meaning, but that use is now obsolete. Today, conclave refers not to the locked rooms but to the private meetings and secret assemblies that occur within them. The meaning of conclave has also expanded to include gatherings that are not necessarily secret or private but simply involve people with shared interests.

Examples of conclave in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Last week, ProPublica revealed that the ethically heedless Clarence Thomas had been a secret speaker at donor conclaves of the Koch network, which spent over $60 million supporting GOP candidates in the last election cycle. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, 25 Sep. 2023 In July, Kappa Alpha Psi, another Black Greek-letter fraternity, held its national conclave in Tampa because it had already been planned and paid for. Curtis Bunn, NBC News, 2 Aug. 2023 In the coming days there will be no conclave, no intrigue, no white smoke. Stefano Pitrelli, Washington Post, 31 Dec. 2022 In 2001 he was elevated to the College of Cardinals and participated in the papal conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. Jeremiah Poff, Washington Examiner, 30 Aug. 2023 In episode five, everything came to a head at a ball for the conclave of mages, an event at Aretuza, called by Yennefer, to promote unity among magic-wielders. Sydney Odman, The Hollywood Reporter, 26 July 2023 Three of the 21 new cardinals are 80 or older and thus not eligible to vote in a conclave. Frances D'emilio,, 9 July 2023 After the ceremony, there will be 137 cardinal electors -- all under 80 years old -- who will be able to enter a conclave to choose the next pope. Teddy Grant, ABC News, 9 July 2023 But their most crucial duty is gathering in a secret conclave to elect the next pontiff. Frances D'emilio,, 9 July 2023 See More

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

Word History


Middle English, from Middle French or Medieval Latin; Middle French, from Medieval Latin, from Latin, room that can be locked up, from com- + clavis key — more at clavicle

First Known Use

1524, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of conclave was in 1524


Dictionary Entries Near conclave

Cite this Entry

“Conclave.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


con·​clave ˈkän-ˌklāv How to pronounce conclave (audio)
: a private or secret meeting or assembly
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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