con·​temp·​tu·​ous | \ kən-ˈtem(p)-chə-wəs How to pronounce contemptuous (audio) , -chəs, -shwəs, -chü-əs \

Definition of contemptuous

: manifesting, feeling, or expressing deep hatred or disapproval : feeling or showing contempt

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from contemptuous

contemptuously adverb
contemptuousness noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for contemptuous



Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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
See More
Recent Examples on the Web Despite often-contemptuous hostility by the elite press, and outright civil disobedience by several federal judges, the president has performed his duties and genuinely tried to keep his promises. Michael I. Krauss, WSJ, "I Was Never Trump. Not Anymore.," 2 Sep. 2020 The terrorists are driven, methodical, and utterly contemptuous of the values and lives of wealthy white Americans. Michael Washburn, National Review, "Postmodernist American Writers and 9/11," 10 Sep. 2020 Then there are the exchanges between the acerbic Russian cosmonaut Misha (a scene-stealing Mark Ivanir) and his adult daughter, who detests him—as her contemptuous onscreen tirades tell. Dorothy Rabinowitz, WSJ, "‘Away’ Review: High Drama in Space," 3 Sep. 2020 The public response from Republicans has been openly contemptuous. Dan Mclaughlin, National Review, "The Hatch Act Controversy Perfectly Captures the Relationship between Trump and the Swamp," 26 Aug. 2020 Allen played opposite the legendary LaWanda Page, as her character Aunt Esther's (Fred's contemptuous and outspoken sister-in-law) long-suffering husband. Rosy Cordero,, "Raymond Allen, Good Times and Sanford and Son actor, dies at 91," 11 Aug. 2020 At first Dai Sugano's photo of a young black woman kneeling in front of a line of heavily armed policemen during a protest on May 29 in San Jose, California, doesn’t seem to echo the contemptuous anger that Richardson directed at the police. John Edwin Mason, National Geographic, "Photos can show protests’ complexity—or they can perpetuate old lies," 5 June 2020 But no political leader has been more contemptuous of the movement than President Donald Trump, who addressed the nation on Monday evening to condemn the protesters. Elly Belle,, "How Our Leaders Are Really Disappointing Protesters," 2 June 2020 In one of the briefings, Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah said, administration officials, openly contemptuous of lawmakers, were unwilling to engage in a genuine discussion about a possible military escalation in the Middle East. New York Times, "House Votes to Restrain Trump’s Iran War Powers," 9 Jan. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'contemptuous.' 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 contemptuous

1574, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for contemptuous

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about contemptuous

Time Traveler for contemptuous

Time Traveler

The first known use of contemptuous was in 1574

See more words from the same year

Statistics for contemptuous

Last Updated

25 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Contemptuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Sep. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for contemptuous


How to pronounce contemptuous (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of contemptuous

somewhat formal : feeling or showing deep hatred or disapproval : feeling or showing contempt


con·​temp·​tu·​ous | \ kən-ˈtemp-chə-wəs How to pronounce contemptuous (audio) \

Kids Definition of contemptuous

: scornful a contemptuous smile

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on contemptuous

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Challenging Vocabulary Quiz Returns!

  • stylized drawing of woman pole vaulting across gap to get trophy
  • Which is a synonym of fuliginous?
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!