con·​temn kən-ˈtem How to pronounce contemn (audio)
contemned; contemning; contemns

transitive verb

: to view or treat with contempt : scorn
contemner noun
or less commonly contemnor
kən-ˈtem-nər How to pronounce contemn (audio)

Did you know?

Contemn is derived from the Latin verb contemnere, a word formed by combining con- and temnere ("to despise"). Surprisingly, our verb may have come within a hair's breadth of being spelled "contempn." The Middle French word contempner arrived in Middle English as "contempnen," but that extra "p" disappeared, leaving us with "contemn." You may be wondering about the connection between "contemn" and "contempt," and not surprisingly, they are related. "Contempt" comes from Latin contemptus, which comes from "contemnere." "Contemn" first turned up in print in the 15th century; "contempt" dates from the 14th century.

Choose the Right Synonym for contemn

despise, contemn, scorn, disdain mean to regard as unworthy of one's notice or consideration.

despise may suggest an emotional response ranging from strong dislike to loathing.

despises cowards

contemn implies a vehement condemnation of a person or thing as low, vile, feeble, or ignominious.

contemns the image of women promoted by advertisers

scorn implies a ready or indignant contempt.

scorns the very thought of retirement

disdain implies an arrogant or supercilious aversion to what is regarded as unworthy.

disdained popular music

Examples of contemn in a Sentence

arrogant critics who contemn the general public's taste in art
Recent Examples on the Web Consequently, the Sadrists were contemned and discounted by Iraq’s liberal elite who form the core of the ICP. Benedict Robin, Washington Post, 7 June 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'contemn.' 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 contempnen "to slight, spurn," borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French contempner "to despise, disdain," borrowed from Latin contemnere "to look down on , show no respect for, despise," from con- con- + temnere "to scorn, despise," of uncertain origin

Note: The verb temnere is probably back-derived from contemnere, which is older and better attested. A comparison has been suggested with the Indo-European verb base *temh1- "cut," for which Greek also offers an n-present formation in támnein, témnein (see tome), though the semantic link is vague ("cut" > "cut off" > "shun" > "spurn, disdain"?). An older proposed link is with Greek stémbein "to shake about, handle roughly," supposedly comparable with Germanic *stampōn-/*stambōn- "to stamp, trample" (see stamp entry 1), but *stemb- is scarcely an unimpeachable Indo-European root.

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of contemn was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near contemn

Cite this Entry

“Contemn.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

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