noun con·tempt \ kən-ˈtem(p)t \
|Updated on: 14 Jul 2018
1 a : the act of despising : the state of mind of one who despises : disdain
  • glared at him in contempt
b : lack of respect or reverence for something
  • acting with contempt for public safety
2 : the state of being despised
3 : willful disobedience to or open disrespect of a court, judge, or legislative body
  • contempt of court

Examples of contempt in a Sentence

  1. There, in the tall grass and the jungle, many would fall and the rest would return home to endure the sullen contempt of their fellow citizens, all to no purpose. —A. J. BacevichCommonweal12 Sept. 1997
  2. I even read a mild contempt into this first-name business, comparable to the old habit of calling men Mac, Ace, Chief, or Buddy, or calling women Honey, Sweetie, or Doll. —AristidesAmerican ScholarSummer 1996
  3. The same contempt for the poor that suggests kids are better off in orphanages will mobilize resistance to the orphanages themselves. —Katha PollittNation12 Dec. 1994
  4. … they looked with contempt at the bloodless gray arthritic hands of the old woman … —Alice WalkerIn Love & Trouble1973
  5. He feels that wealthy people view him with contempt because he is poor.

  6. He spoke with contempt in his voice.

  7. She has displayed a profound contempt for her opponents.

  8. She was arrested for contempt of court.

Recent Examples of contempt from the Web

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

Origin and Etymology of contempt

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin contemptus, from contemnere — see contemn

CONTEMPT Defined for English Language Learners


  • : a feeling that someone or something is not worthy of any respect or approval

  • : a lack of respect for or fear of something that is usually respected or feared

  • law : speech or behavior that does not show proper respect to a court or judge

CONTEMPT Defined for Kids


noun con·tempt \ kən-ˈtempt \
1 : a feeling of disrespect or disapproval of something or someone
  • It amused him that she pretended such contempt for him and yet condescended to show off …
  • —Esther Forbes, Johnny Tremain
2 : the state of being despised
  • He holds them in contempt.
3 : lack of proper respect for a judge or court
  • He was fined for contempt of court.

Law Dictionary


noun con·tempt \ kən-ˈtempt \
1 : willful disobedience or open disrespect of the orders, authority, or dignity of a court or judge acting in a judicial capacity by disruptive language or conduct or by failure to obey the court's orders; also : the offense of contempt called also contempt of court
civil contempt
: contempt that consists of disobedience to a court order in favor of the opposing party
Note: The sanctions for civil contempt end upon compliance with the order.
constructive contempt
: indirect contempt in this entry
criminal contempt
: contempt consisting of conduct that disrupts or opposes the proceedings or power of the court
Note: The sanctions for criminal contempt are designed to punish as well as to coerce compliance.
direct contempt
: contempt committed in the presence of the court or in a location close enough to disrupt the court's proceedings
indirect contempt
: contempt (as disobedience of a court order) that occurs outside of the presence of the court
2 : willful disobedience to a lawful order of or willful obstruction of a legislative body in the course of exercising its powers
  • contempt of Congress
in contempt
: in the state of having been found guilty of contempt
  • refused to testify and were held in contempt
  • —A. M. Dershowitz

Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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


to beat or defeat soundly

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Test Your Emoji Exceptionalism

  • test-your-emoji-exceptionalism-written-with-a-lot-of-emoji
  • What is this emoji intended to represent: 🤳
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


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!