adjective con·tempt·ible \ kən-ˈtem(p)-tə-bəl \
|Updated on: 20 May 2018

Definition of contemptible

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


play \kən-ˌtem(p)-tə-ˈbi-lə-tē\ noun




play \kən-ˈtem(p)-tə-blē\ adverb

Examples of contemptible in a Sentence

  1. I've never met a more selfish, contemptible person.

  2. the contemptible thieves who stole the Christmas gifts intended for needy children

Recent Examples of contemptible from the Web

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.

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.

Origin and Etymology of contemptible

Synonym Discussion of 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

CONTEMPTIBLE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of contemptible for English Language Learners

  • : not worthy of respect or approval : deserving contempt

CONTEMPTIBLE Defined for Kids


adjective con·tempt·ible \ kən-ˈtemp-tə-bəl \

Definition of contemptible for Students

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

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