ear·​nest | \ ˈər-nəst How to pronounce earnest (audio) \

Definition of earnest

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : characterized by or proceeding from an intense and serious state of mind


noun (1)

Definition of earnest (Entry 2 of 3)

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


noun (2)

Definition of earnest (Entry 3 of 3)

1 : something of value given by a buyer to a seller to bind a bargain
2 : a token of what is to come : pledge

Other Words from earnest


earnestness \ ˈər-​nəs(t)-​nəs How to pronounce earnest (audio) \ noun

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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective When the race began in earnest again on lap 17, Hamilton burst straight past Ricciardo into third while Vettel brilliantly defended the corner twice to fend off Bottas. Associated Press, latimes.com, 16 Apr. 2017 And Wura O. is surprisingly earnest: Africa is a place full of beauty, exuberance, and culture. Sebastian Modak, Condé Nast Traveler, 7 Apr. 2017 With a new administration in office and so much at stake, now is a good time to approach that task in earnest. Liz Spayd, New York Times, 18 Feb. 2017 Yet in an era of fake news, overheated partisanship and general rancor, Mr. Mazza seems unfailingly earnest and without an agenda — aside from trying to become a reporter, with his own notion of what that means. Marc Santora, New York Times, 17 Feb. 2017 This championship marked the culmination of a slow rebuilding process, which started in earnest when the Cubs hired Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations before the 2012 season. Jared Diamond, WSJ, 3 Nov. 2016 Few music figures have made a more earnest attempt to break into fashion than Yeezus, and these sorts of collections follow in those Westian footsteps. Pete Forester, Esquire, 22 Aug. 2016 The campaign kicked off in earnest Thursday night on a conference call with at least 30 delegates from 15 states, according to multiple participants. Ed O'keefe, Washington Post, 17 June 2016 A team spokesman declined to be quoted, but expressed earnest affection for the Hall of Science; the Mets have a representative on the hall’s board. Jim Dwyer, New York Times, 19 May 2016 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The most immediate question is whether the British can map out in advance their negotiating partners’ positions before the talks start in earnest. Stephen Fidler, WSJ, 6 Oct. 2016 Then, the defending of the lead continued in earnest. Andrew Das, New York Times, 11 June 2016 But Sanders appeared to be offering in earnest, prompted in part by the Clinton campaign’s decision, announced Monday, not to follow through on an earlier pledge to debate him in California. John Cassidy, The New Yorker, 27 May 2016 The battle for control of the living room just began in earnest. David Streitfeld, New York Times, 18 May 2016 The term post-racial is almost never used in earnest. Ta-nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, 26 June 2015 A guest brings up a television show in which each episode features a different sect of Americans, preparing in earnest for a different kind of doomsday. Eric Boman, Vogue, 29 Apr. 2015 Will Ferrell has been making the publicity rounds in earnest since his new comedy Get Hard premiered at SXSW earlier this month. Ryan Bort, Esquire, 27 Mar. 2015 Ersatz, every word, and yet all meant in good earnest. Emma Donoghue, The Atlantic, 19 Feb. 2014 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'earnest.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of earnest


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

History and Etymology for earnest

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

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Time Traveler for earnest

Time Traveler

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

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Dictionary Entries Near earnest

earned run average



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Cite this Entry

“Earnest.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/earnest. Accessed 1 Oct. 2022.

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More Definitions for earnest


ear·​nest | \ ˈər-nəst How to pronounce earnest (audio) \

Kids Definition of earnest

: not light or playful We received an earnest request for help.

Other Words from earnest

earnestly adverb
earnestness noun


ear·​nest | \ ˈər-nəst How to pronounce earnest (audio) \

Legal Definition of earnest

: something of value given by a buyer to a seller to bind a bargain

History and Etymology for earnest

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

More from Merriam-Webster on earnest

Nglish: Translation of earnest for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of earnest for Arabic Speakers


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