de·​fy | \ di-ˈfī How to pronounce defy (audio) , dē- \
defied; defying

Definition of defy

 (Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to confront with assured power of resistance : disregard defy public opinion in trouble for defying a court order
2 : to resist attempts at : withstand the paintings defy classification a decision that defies all logic
3 : to challenge to do something considered impossible : dare defied us to name a better movie
4 archaic : to challenge to combat


de·​fy | \ di-ˈfī How to pronounce defy (audio) , ˈdē-ˌfī How to pronounce defy (audio) \
plural defies

Definition of defy (Entry 2 of 2)

: challenge, defiance observers took this to be a form of defy— Jack Alexander

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Synonyms & Antonyms for defy

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Verb

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Examples of defy in a Sentence

Verb She defied her parents and dropped out of school. The group has continued to defy all efforts to stop them.
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Her tattoos and blue hair defy the kingdom’s traditions. The Economist, "Rap the casbah As Arab rappers challenge the old ways, despots hit back," 4 July 2020 The city of Lancaster will defy a Los Angeles County ban and host a Fourth of July fireworks display tonight. City News Service, Los Angeles Times, "Lancaster will defy county ban and hold fireworks display tonight," 4 July 2020 Activists defy a police ban to participate in a rally in Victoria Park on June 4. Eric Cheung And Philip Wang, CNN, "Pro-democracy leader Nathan Law leaves Hong Kong," 2 July 2020 No, really Mountainside didn't comment further Thursday, instead deferring to earlier statements defending their choice to defy state orders. Ryan Randazzo, The Arizona Republic, "Standoff between some Arizona gyms, Gov. Doug Ducey intensifies," 2 July 2020 Particularly when the show is notorious for moments that decidedly defy social distancing protocol, like the 2003 kiss between Madonna and Britney Spears and the infamous Miley Cyrus-Robin Thicke twerking moment of 2013. Maureen Lee Lenker,, "The VMAs are still happening live(!) in New York City," 29 June 2020 Plenty of its practitioners make decent music, and decent livings, without feeling the need to subvert or defy anything at all. Jonathan Dee, The New Yorker, "What Happens When David Mitchell Writes a Rock Novel?," 29 June 2020 This story has, of course, smashed full-on into several racial, political and economic reckonings that defy its very meaning. Washington Post, "‘Union’ tells the origin story of the United States through 19th-century voices," 26 June 2020 The North’s recent steps came after months of frustration over Seoul’s unwillingness to defy U.S.-led sanctions and restart the inter-Korean economic projects that would breathe life into its broken economy. Kim Tong-hyung, Anchorage Daily News, "North: Kim suspended action against South for Korean impasse," 24 June 2020

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


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4


1580, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for defy


Middle English defien "to renounce, disavow, scorn, challenge to fight," borrowed from Anglo-French defier, desfier, from de-, des- de- + fier "to pledge, trust in, rely on," going back to Vulgar Latin *fīdāre, re-formation of Latin fīdere "to trust (in), have confidence (in)" — more at faith entry 1

Note: The sense history was perhaps "to break faith with" > "to scorn" > "to challenge to a fight," though the latter meaning appears to be the earliest in Old French.


in part borrowed from Middle French deffy, noun derivative of defier "to challenge, defy entry 1," in part derivative of defy entry 1

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Time Traveler for defy

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for defy

Last Updated

8 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Defy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for defy


How to pronounce defy (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of defy

: to refuse to obey (something or someone)
: to make (something) very difficult or impossible
: to resist or fight (something)


de·​fy | \ di-ˈfī How to pronounce defy (audio) \
defied; defying

Kids Definition of defy

1 : to refuse boldly to obey or yield to The protesters defied orders to leave.
2 : to challenge to do something thought to be impossible : dare I defy you to explain the trick.
3 : to resist attempts at : withstand The scene defies description.

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More from Merriam-Webster on defy

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for defy

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with defy

Spanish Central: Translation of defy

Nglish: Translation of defy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of defy for Arabic Speakers

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