ep·​i·​taph ˈe-pə-ˌtaf How to pronounce epitaph (audio)
: an inscription on or at a tomb or a grave in memory of the one buried there
: a brief statement commemorating or epitomizing a deceased person or something past
epitaphial adjective
epitaphic adjective

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An inscription on a tomb is an epitaph, as is, by extension, anything written as if to be inscribed on a tomb. Probably the earliest surviving epitaphs are those written on ancient Egyptian sarcophagi and coffins. In Elizabethan times, epitaphs became much more common in English. Many of the best known are literary memorials (often deliberately witty) not intended for a tomb. Benjamin Franklin’s epitaph for himself plays on his trade as a printer, hoping that he will “appear once more in a new and more beautiful edition, corrected and amended by the Author.” The 20th-century writer and wit Dorothy Parker’s suggested epitaphs include “I told you I was sick” and “If you can read this, you’re standing too close.”

Examples of epitaph in a Sentence

The epitaph reads “In loving memory of John Gray: husband, father, soldier.”
Recent Examples on the Web The 7-year-old saw granite and marble headstones jutting out from the grass near other graves, inscribed with epitaphs. Praveena Somasundaram, Washington Post, 10 Apr. 2024 The tombstones were engraved with names, epitaphs and verses from the Quran, according to experts. Moira Ritter, Miami Herald, 7 Feb. 2024 The epitaph of Aaron Rodgers’ career will no longer be limited to his one Super Bowl title, four NFL MVP awards and countless superlative stats. USA TODAY, 9 Jan. 2024 And the media machine that will use this tidbit of news as a jumping-off point to offer Warriors epitaphs and countless trade proposals (half of which are impossible under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement) only pours gasoline on the flame. Dieter Kurtenbach, The Mercury News, 5 Jan. 2024 Boseman received some of the best notices of his career, making for an apt epitaph for a brief but brilliant career. Lester Fabian Brathwaite, EW.com, 15 Mar. 2024 The resultant film is a moving, multifaceted masterwork that doubles as a cinematic epitaph to a vibrant (if secretive) young man. Siddhant Adlakha, Variety, 20 Jan. 2024 Let this piece, originally written when the 2023 show was cancelled in March, serve as our epitaph for an annual industry gathering that grew to be a cultural touchstone in the gaming world. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, 12 Dec. 2023 This is the epitaph of most parties, carefully arranged and prepared long in advance—when the edge of spontaneity has been rubbed off and the delicate flower of anticipation has withered with so long an interval between desire and fulfillment. Elsa Maxwell, Vogue, 29 Dec. 2023

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

Word History


Middle English epitaphe, from Anglo-French & Medieval Latin; Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin epitaphium, from Latin, funeral oration, from Greek epitaphion, from epi- + taphos tomb, funeral

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of epitaph was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near epitaph

Cite this Entry

“Epitaph.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epitaph. Accessed 29 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


ep·​i·​taph ˈep-ə-ˌtaf How to pronounce epitaph (audio)
: something written (as on a gravestone) in memory of a dead person
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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