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



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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 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 Former Vice President Joe Biden, who boasts a near-half-century-long Washington career, is blasting the former mayor's record as small potatoes in a contemptuous ad. Stephen Collinson, CNN, "The inexperience paradox in presidential campaigns," 11 Feb. 2020 Shaw had been killed at the second battle of Fort Wagner, and contemptuous Confederate troops dumped the bodies of Shaw and his troops into a mass grave. Alice George, Smithsonian, "Sculptor Edmonia Lewis Shattered Gender and Race Expectations in 19th-Century America," 25 July 2018 Senate Republicans, however, were contemptuous of the delay. Anchorage Daily News, "Questions swirl around timing, scope of anticipated Senate trial on impeachment," 19 Dec. 2019 Relatedly, the end of the Cold War engendered a newly potent transnationalism, contemptuous of national boundaries and supportive of institutions of global governance. Rich Lowry, National Review, "The Treason of the Elites," 24 Oct. 2019 Some critics detect parody in these late paintings, assuming Lautrec, the chronicler of popular entertainment, must have been contemptuous of the opera. Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, "Yes, Toulouse-Lautrec was an alcoholic cabaret creature. But his art ranged far beyond the demimonde.," 12 Nov. 2019

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

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

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Time Traveler for contemptuous

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The first known use of contemptuous was in 1574

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Statistics for contemptuous

Last Updated

21 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Contemptuous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Aug. 2020.

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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

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