con·​temp·​tu·​ous kən-ˈtem(p)-chə-wəs How to pronounce contemptuous (audio)
: manifesting, feeling, or expressing deep hatred or disapproval : feeling or showing contempt
contemptuously adverb
contemptuousness noun

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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 contemptuous in a Sentence

He owned a fine Kentucky rifle, with a cherry wood stock, and was contemptuous of the bulky carbines most of the troop had adopted. Larry McMurtry, Dead Man's Walk, 1995
In his 1978 Harvard commencement address, Mr. Solzhenitsyn seemed at times contemptuous of American democracy … Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York Times Book Review, 24 Nov. 1991
He felt familiar enough to indulge in outbursts of rage or contemptuous sarcasm in her presence, and to display the most withering side of his character, lashing out at the people he despised. Cynthia Ozick, New Yorker, 20 Nov. 1989
loutish tourists who are contemptuous of the ways and traditions of their host countries contemptuous comments about the baseball team's pathetic showings
Recent Examples on the Web This system is contemptuous of popular will, suspicious of dissent and opposition, neglectful or outright hostile toward Sudanese living outside of Khartoum, and deft at manipulating foreign powers so that Sudan’s leaders are always cast as the lesser of two evils. Michelle Gavin, Foreign Affairs, 4 Feb. 2022 Ted’s anger, Bill Walton remembered, seemed reserved for those who were contemptuous of the poor. Tom Krasovic, San Diego Union-Tribune, 29 May 2024 And yet, some of Villa’s fans remain contemptuous of him. Bruce Schoenfeld Robert Fass Anna Diamond David Mason, New York Times, 4 May 2024 Allen’s dramatic assertions about the lusts of movie men for a nubile young woman are matched by his contemptuous depiction of her as a ditz out of her depth, especially as compared to the soulful rebel Gatsby, who throws her over for a younger girl (Gomez). Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 3 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for contemptuous 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'contemptuous.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


probably borrowed from Medieval Latin contemptuōsus, from Latin contemptu-, stem of contemptus contempt + -ōsus -ous

First Known Use

1574, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of contemptuous was in 1574

Dictionary Entries Near contemptuous

Cite this Entry

“Contemptuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


con·​temp·​tu·​ous kən-ˈtem(p)-ch(ə-w)əs How to pronounce contemptuous (audio)
: feeling or showing hate or deep disapproval
contemptuously adverb
contemptuousness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on contemptuous

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