con·​tempt·​ible | \ kən-ˈtem(p)-tə-bəl How to pronounce contemptible (audio) \

Definition of contemptible

1 : worthy of contempt a contemptible snob contemptible bigots
2 obsolete : scornful, contemptuous

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Other Words from contemptible

contemptibility \ kən-​ˌtem(p)-​tə-​ˈbi-​lə-​tē How to pronounce contemptible (audio) \ noun
contemptibleness noun
contemptibly \ kən-​ˈtem(p)-​tə-​blē How to pronounce contemptible (audio) \ adverb

Choose the Right Synonym for contemptible

contemptible, despicable, pitiable, sorry, scurvy mean arousing or deserving scorn. contemptible may imply any quality provoking scorn or a low standing in any scale of values. a contemptible liar despicable may imply utter worthlessness and usually suggests arousing an attitude of moral indignation. a despicable crime pitiable applies to what inspires mixed contempt and pity. a pitiable attempt at tragedy sorry may stress pitiable inadequacy or may suggest wretchedness or sordidness. this rattletrap is a sorry excuse for a car scurvy adds to despicable an implication of arousing disgust. a scurvy crew of hangers-on

What Is the Difference Between contemptuous and contemptible?

Contemptuous and contemptible are sometimes confused with each other. This is neither surprising, as they are similar in appearance, nor is it unprecedented: the words were used interchangeably for several hundred years (from the 16th through the 18th century), with each one meaning both "deserving contempt" and "showing contempt." By the early 19th century, some commentators began raising objections when the words were used synonymously, suggesting that they should be distinguished, with contemptuous meaning only "showing contempt" and contemptible only "deserving contempt."

In the following passage, for example, a would-be critic is ridiculed for using contemptible in the sense "showing contempt":

“Young man! my opinion of you is very contemptible.” “All your opinions are contemptible,” rejoined Phillip, quietly.  – Garry Avenel, Zou Mou, in The Iris, September, 1841

The distinction hinted at in this rebuke has been observed in English, by professional writers anyway, for close to 200 years.

Examples of contemptible in a Sentence

I've never met a more selfish, contemptible person. the contemptible thieves who stole the Christmas gifts intended for needy children
Recent Examples on the Web Levin’s attempt to blur the lines between her case and more damning ones is contemptible — or worse. Isaac Schorr, National Review, "How a Vindictive Classmate and a Cowardly University Ruined a Girl’s Life," 30 Dec. 2020 People took to social media to denounce it and him as misogynistic, condescending and contemptible. Washington Post, "How the dusty old op-ed pages became the red-hot outrage-generating machine of 2020," 28 Dec. 2020 Why would an eternal spirit take on the contemptible condition of flesh? James Matthew Wilson, WSJ, "Finding the Sacred in the Delights of Christmas," 24 Dec. 2020 Ordinary citizens then became sufficiently frustrated at the contemptible lack of accountability in the towering heights of elite institutions to resort to Trump, a political opportunist, to send a message. John Loftus, National Review, "The Movement against Elites," 2 Nov. 2020 Sectarianism is a highly moralized political identity that views the other side as contemptible. Christie Aschwanden, Scientific American, "Why Hatred and 'Othering' of Political Foes Has Spiked to Extreme Levels," 29 Oct. 2020 These days, Peters certainly isn’t the only one exhibiting all these contemptible, autocratic traits. Michael Dirda, Washington Post, "‘The Professor and the Parson’ tries to make sense of a narcissistic con man who fooled nearly everyone," 26 Feb. 2020 This sordid, contemptible impeachment ruse is finally disintegrating. Conrad Black, National Review, "The Impeachment Farce Limps Along to Its Anticlimax," 30 Oct. 2019 The idea that a push for major structural change in a nation of 327 million, where few Americans have even the most meager measure of financial security, should be polite is contemptible. Gretchen Felker-martin,, "How Modern Politics Became A Death Cult," 24 Mar. 2020

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

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First Known Use of contemptible

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for contemptible

Middle English, "unworthy, despicable," borrowed from Middle French & Latin; Middle French, "despicable, worthless," borrowed from Latin contemptibilis (Medieval Latin also, "contemptuous"), from contemptus, past participle of contemnere "to look down on, show no respect for, despise" + -ibilis -ible — more at contemn

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Time Traveler for contemptible

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

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Last Updated

28 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Contemptible.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for contemptible



English Language Learners Definition of contemptible

somewhat formal : not worthy of respect or approval : deserving contempt


con·​tempt·​ible | \ kən-ˈtemp-tə-bəl How to pronounce contemptible (audio) \

Kids Definition of contemptible

: deserving or causing a person to be despised a contemptible criminal a contemptible lie

More from Merriam-Webster on contemptible

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for contemptible

Nglish: Translation of contemptible for Spanish Speakers

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