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.”

Example Sentences

The epitaph reads “In loving memory of John Gray: husband, father, soldier.”
Recent Examples on the Web But Swift wasn’t ready to write the epitaph for Republicans in her state or in New England. Joanna Slater, Washington Post, 11 Nov. 2022 The epitaph of a crypto king might be a Slack message Bankman-Fried reportedly sent this week to employees. Brandon Kochkodin, Forbes, 11 Nov. 2022 But Swift wasn't ready to write the epitaph for Republicans in her state or in New England. Joanna Slater, BostonGlobe.com, 10 Nov. 2022 The epitaph for this Chicago White Sox season was delivered Wednesday night by starter Lance Lynn. Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune, 23 Sep. 2022 In fact, Carlin only suggested this be his epitaph. Scott Lafee, San Diego Union-Tribune, 13 Sep. 2022 Johnson’s political epitaph could hardly have been more eloquently written. Fintan O’toole, The New York Review of Books, 7 Sep. 2022 Russian Ambassador to Japan Mikhail Galuzin on Thursday offered flowers at a memorial epitaph in the park and told reporters his country would never use nuclear weapons. Mari Yamaguchi, BostonGlobe.com, 6 Aug. 2022 Which might as well be Donald Trump’s petulant political epitaph. Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, 22 July 2022 See More

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

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 28 Nov. 2022.

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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