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ear·​nest ˈər-nəst How to pronounce earnest (audio)
: characterized by or proceeding from an intense and serious state of mind
earnestness noun


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noun (1)

: a serious and intent mental state
a proposal made in earnest
: a considerable or impressive degree or amount
the sap started running in earnest


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noun (2)

: something of value given by a buyer to a seller to bind a bargain
: a token of what is to come : pledge
Choose the Right Synonym for earnest

serious, grave, solemn, sedate, staid, sober, earnest mean not light or frivolous.

serious implies a concern for what really matters.

a serious play about social injustice

grave implies both seriousness and dignity in expression or attitude.

read the proclamation in a grave voice

solemn suggests an impressive gravity utterly free from levity.

a sad and solemn occasion

sedate implies a composed and decorous seriousness.

remained sedate amid the commotion

staid suggests a settled, accustomed sedateness and prim self-restraint.

a quiet and staid community

sober stresses seriousness of purpose and absence of levity or frivolity.

a sober look at the state of our schools

earnest suggests sincerity or often zealousness of purpose.

an earnest reformer

Examples of earnest in a Sentence

Adjective Barnum's antics provoked tongue-in-cheek reporting and nods and winks in the newspapers, but no earnest cries of humbug. The artful deceiver turned fraud into family fun. Jackson Lears, New Republic, 12 Nov. 2001
Students of all ages were forced to watch these earnest but bizarre short films, which apprised them of such things as the folly of playing on steep precipices overlooking the ocean, the need to minimize one's square-dancing during the early days of the menstrual cycle, the inadvisability of shooting heroin before an important track meet and the necessity of placing the fork to the left of the plate. Joe Queenan, New York Times, 20 Jan. 2000
… a Prussian émigré who became a middle-class English gentleman; an angry agitator who spent much of his adult life in the scholarly silence of the British Museum Reading Room; a gregarious and convivial host who fell out with almost all his friends; a devoted family man who impregnated his housemaid; and a deeply earnest philosopher who loved drink, cigars and jokes. Francis Wheen, The Nation, 10 July 2000
… a bland expression on my face, looking more innocent than an innocent person has any business looking, I imagined that the sales-women who sometimes glanced over at me saw an earnest young shopper instead of a transparent little klepto. Tobias Wolff, Forbes, 20 Mar. 1989
an earnest plea for help I'll accept only an earnest apology from you. Noun (1) On Easter Monday the rain began in earnest. Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia, (1977) 2003
The sidewalks were crowded as women and men argued and bargained with each other as the shopping day began in earnest. Harold Robbins, The Storyteller, 1985
Books are an addiction, that, when aroused in earnest, is rarely calmed. Joseph Epstein, The Middle of My Tether, 1983
The divorce proceedings began in earnest, and they were earnestly vile. Angie Bowie et al., US, 23 Nov. 1982
Noun (2) In 1942, Roosevelt, Stimson, and Marshall all recognized the degree of fraud in MacArthur but let him get away with his act because in those black days morale required an invincible hero in the Pacific as an earnest of eventual victory there. Paul Fussell, Wartime, 1989
A large portion of the spoil was set aside to be sent to Carthage as an earnest of the riches of further conquest. Ernle Bradford, Hannibal, 1981
When I had promised to pay for his information and given him an earnest, he told me that he had made two journeys between Carfax and a house in Piccadilly, and had taken from this house to the latter nine great boxes, "main heavy ones," with a horse and cart hired by him for this purpose. Bram Stoker, Dracula, 1897
Recent Examples on the Web
At first, juror No. 8 (Henry Fonda) is the only one who even entertains the possibility that the boy isn’t guilty, but his earnest attempt to consider reasonable doubt inspires other jury members to question the evidence. Danny Horn, EW.com, 9 Apr. 2024 Pushing content every single day The Kremlin turned in earnest to undermining American support for Ukraine in January 2023. Joseph Menn, Washington Post, 8 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for earnest 

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

Word History


Noun (1) and Adjective

Middle English ernest, from Old English eornost; akin to Old High German ernust earnest

Noun (2)

Middle English ernes, ernest, from Anglo-French arres, erres, plural of erre earnest, from Latin arra, short for arrabo, from Greek arrhabōn, of Semitic origin; akin to Hebrew ʽērābhōn pledge

First Known Use


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun (1)

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun (2)

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of earnest was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near earnest

Cite this Entry

“Earnest.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/earnest. Accessed 20 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
ear·​nest ˈər-nəst How to pronounce earnest (audio)
: a serious state of mind
a promise made in earnest


2 of 2 adjective
: having or showing a serious attitude : not light or playful
made an earnest request
earnestly adverb
earnestness noun

Legal Definition


ear·​nest ˈər-nəst How to pronounce earnest (audio)
: something of value given by a buyer to a seller to bind a bargain


Anglo-French ernes(t), erles, alteration of Old French erres, plural of erre pledge, earnest, alteration of Latin arra, short for arrabo, from Greek arrhabōn, of Semitic origin

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