con·​de·​scend·​ing ˌkän-di-ˈsen-diŋ How to pronounce condescending (audio)
: showing or characterized by a patronizing or superior attitude toward others
condescendingly adverb

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What is the difference between condescending and patronizing?

Very few words in English have exactly the same meaning; even words which appear to be entirely synonymous often will be found to have small differences in certain contexts. The words condescending and patronizing present a fine example of this. At first glance these words appear to be defined somewhat circularly: condescending often has the word "patronizing" in its definition, and patronize is defined, in part, as “to adopt an air of condescension toward.”

But both of these words have specialized senses that lend a shade of meaning to their synonymous senses. Patronizing can mean "giving support to" or "being a customer of," suggesting that the "condescending" sense implies superiority gained through a donor-dependent relationship.

The verb condescend used to be free of any hint of the offensive superiority it usually suggests today. It could mean literally "to go or come down" or, figuratively, "to willingly lower oneself to another’s level," senses that are still occasionally encountered in writings on the Bible. The idea of self-consciously lowering oneself is implied in the "patronizing" sense of condescending.

Examples of condescending in a Sentence

The next big sequel to roll off the assembly line (awful, condescending phrase, but this is a case of what you have to do when the shoe fits) is going to be a sequel to "Rebecca," Daphne du Maurier's classic 1930's suspense novel. Stephen King, New York Times Book Review, 6 June 1993
… when the picturesque was seen close up, the "happy poverty" of the peasant was not always happy. There was something unpleasantly condescending, an element of esthetic slumming in the tourist's or the artist's view of picturesqueness. Anatole Broyard, New York Times Book Review, 1 Oct. 1989
I always imagined publishers were rather snarky and condescending and made a point of crabbing one's work, but he didn't a bit. Elizabeth Bowen, letter, 19 Jan. 1923
His comments were offensive and condescending to us.
Recent Examples on the Web The Mommy Wars and the Child Care Cliff The mommy wars (which is a silly condescending name for a silly, condescending thing) are obviously nothing new. Zara Hanawalt, Parents, 4 Oct. 2023 In the new Netflix series Wrestlers, streaming now, the showrunners and performers behind the scrappy Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) lean into the condescending critique and willingly pull back the curtain on the reality behind one of society’s most surreal art forms. Sean Neumann, Peoplemag, 27 Sep. 2023 Its battery is dead, but that doesn’t stop him from being very condescending to Gabbie (who is paying him $2,000 for his time). Odie Henderson,, 25 July 2023 The Taskforce urges that any legislative or regulatory steps taken to deprive marginal consumers of access to small- dollar loan products be grounded in sound economic theory and empirical evidence and not in unfounded and condescending stereotypes of the consumers who use these products. John Fund, National Review, 16 May 2021 Attitude is everything in such matters, and, where Irvin had made a New Yorker in the unlikely image of a condescending Regency beau, Glaser consolidated all the pizzazz and aggressive irreverence of the Madison Avenue manner into a handful of department headings and fonts. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 20 Mar. 2023 Which bear is the most condescending? Cameron Jenkins, Good Housekeeping, 1 Nov. 2022 Laura chats Irina’s friends, who are vaguely snobby and maddeningly condescending. Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, 8 Mar. 2022 Rifkin is not part of the movie industry, but his parasitic relationship to film culture is pompous and condescending. Armond White, National Review, 4 Feb. 2022 See More

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

Word History


see condescend

First Known Use

1660, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of condescending was in 1660

Dictionary Entries Near condescending

Cite this Entry

“Condescending.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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