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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from contemptible

contemptibility \ kən-​ˌtem(p)-​tə-​ˈbi-​lə-​tē How to pronounce contemptibility (audio) \ noun
contemptibleness noun
contemptibly \ kən-​ˈtem(p)-​tə-​blē How to pronounce contemptibly (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 Then again, what would be the point of the Knicks’ existence if not going out of their way to publicly embarrass the few remaining icons willing to be associated with their increasingly contemptible brand? Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, "Opinion: Knicks' ridiculous beef with Spike Lee underlines owner James Dolan's incompetence," 3 Mar. 2020 According to the contemptible and hypocritical Unwritten Rules of Baseball, players who celebrate home runs too demonstratively, such as Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, are baseball’s bad actors, violators of the sanctity of the game. Globe Staff,, "Punishment for Astros shows MLB’s sign-stealing days are over — and the Red Sox are next," 13 Jan. 2020 Meticulously researched and flawlessly written, the book treats its obscure, contemptible subject with the same professionalism that Mr. Sisman brought to Trevor-Roper and the Boswell-Johnson relationship. Ben Downing, WSJ, "‘The Professor and the Parson’ Review: Father of Lies," 31 Jan. 2020 The Republican refusal to take any allegations against Mr Trump seriously has been contemptible. The Economist, "On trial Trump, impeachment and American democracy," 12 Dec. 2019 The Mother Jones article has brought to light some of the most contemptible and irrational racist fears that existed throughout the implementation of Brown v. Board of Education, where it was thought that black students were intellectually inferior., "Letters: Redistricting schools won’t address low test scores; and more from readers," 5 Nov. 2019 The annual flu shots that are free to those with health insurance are not immune from the convoluted and contemptible price-gouging that plague the US healthcare system. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Bonkers pricing of “free” flu shots shows what’s wrong with US healthcare," 19 Nov. 2019 Ultimately, the book demonstrates that gatherings of disingenuous, backstabbing, contemptible, often bumbling people can be devastatingly successful when interests align. Clint Watts, Washington Post, "Inside the unscrupulous world of social-media manipulation with a penitent whistleblower," 11 Oct. 2019 The students find the whole idea of the writer as a gifted truth-teller — as a kind of god — contemptible. Lori Soderlind, New York Times, "For the Love of a Dog," 9 Mar. 2018

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about contemptible

Time Traveler for contemptible

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for contemptible

Last Updated

10 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Contemptible.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for contemptible


How to pronounce contemptible (audio)

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

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on contemptible

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for contemptible

Spanish Central: Translation of contemptible

Nglish: Translation of contemptible for Spanish Speakers

Comments on contemptible

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


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

March 2020 Words of the Day Quiz

  • field of crocuses
  • Which is a synonym of rectitudinous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


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!