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

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Other Words from contemptuous

contemptuously adverb
contemptuousness noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for contemptuous


abhorrent, disdainful, scornful


admiring, applauding, appreciative, approving

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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
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Recent Examples on the Web

Puerto Ricans poured onto the streets of San Juan and other cities this week to protest a government many in the U.S. territory see as corrupt and even contemptuous of residents. Megan Cerullo, CBS News, "Behind the mass protests in Puerto Rico, a tale of economic woe," 19 July 2019 The answer, thankfully, is the former, as her contemptuous Mary Louise anchors much of the new episodes’ drama. Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY, "Everything we know about 'Big Little Lies' Season 2, from Meryl Streep to Amabella," 6 June 2019 Despite his eventual advocacy for index funds, Mr. Bogle was contemptuous early in his career of the idea that trying to beat the market was a waste of money. Jason Zweig, WSJ, "John C. Bogle, Founder of Vanguard Group, Dies at 89," 17 Jan. 2019 Wearing snug, flame-color dresses (Ann Hould-Ward is the costume designer), her hips rolling like waves in a gentle surf, Ms. Rose nails the contemptuous arrogance of the sexiest girl in a small town. Ben Brantley, New York Times, "Review: Bad Girl Makes Good in a Glorious ‘Carmen Jones’," 27 June 2018 The English have, thus, had their revenge on those contemptuous intellectuals, but the hostility has harmed the country. The Economist, "English or British? Football highlights an enduring identity crisis," 12 July 2018 Looking sensational in Ann Hould-Ward's costumes, Rose's Carmen wraps herself around the men and takes contemptuous swipes at the women, never relinquishing her control even when Joe is ordered to lead her off to the guardhouse for picking fights. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Carmen Jones': Theater Review," 28 June 2018 All the more so with a president so contemptuous of institutions. The Economist, "Anthony Kennedy’s retirement comes at a worrying time," 30 June 2018 London Rules is the fifth set in Slough House, where MI5 leaves its misfits in the doubtful care of Jackson Lamb, a flatulent and contemptuous genius of tradecraft. Charles Finch, USA TODAY, "These 4 new mysteries are guaranteed to heat up your summer," 13 June 2018

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.

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First Known Use of contemptuous

1574, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for contemptuous

Latin contemptus — see contempt

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Statistics for contemptuous

Last Updated

30 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for contemptuous

The first known use of contemptuous was in 1574

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More Definitions for contemptuous



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

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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).


recurring in steady succession

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