erst·​while | \ ˈərst-ˌ(h)wī(-ə)l How to pronounce erstwhile (audio) \

Definition of erstwhile

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: in the past : formerly cultures, erstwhile unknown to each other— Robert Plank



Definition of erstwhile (Entry 2 of 2)

: former, previous erstwhile enemies

Synonyms for erstwhile

Synonyms: Adverb

Synonyms: Adjective

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The adverb erstwhile has been part of English since at least the 16th century, but it is formed from two words that are much older. It comes from the Old English words aer, meaning "early," and hwil, which has the same meaning as the modern word while. (The English word ere, meaning "before," is also a descendant of aer.) These days erstwhile is more likely to be encountered as an adjective, as in "erstwhile enemies." That adjective use is a much more recent development, having joined the language about three centuries after the adverb.

Examples of erstwhile in a Sentence

Adverb there's now a store where erstwhile lay green and pleasant pastures Adjective my erstwhile friend ignored me when I ran into her at the mall
Recent Examples on the Web: Adverb In South Africa’s middle class suburban areas, including Randburg, where there’s more visible policing, lockdown measures are being tightly enforced, leaving several erstwhile busy stalls and shopping areas empty. Quartz Africa, 4 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The tickets were a Christmas gift from our son Kelly, the erstwhile Kid Down the Hall. Paul Daugherty, The Enquirer, 9 May 2022 In 2013, Robbie Fitzpatrick and Alex Freedman founded the erstwhile Freedman Fitzpatrick gallery in Los Angeles with the aim of introducing European artists to the U.S. market. New York Times, 4 May 2022 This erstwhile cultural hub has been converted into luxury homes. Lydia Armstrong, CNN, 6 Apr. 2022 Faster data service like 4G was restored in the region only in January 2021, nearly 18 months after being withdrawn following the erstwhile state’s restructuring by the Indian government. Manavi Kapur, Quartz, 5 Apr. 2022 In 2016, the cartel forged a partnership with non-members led by erstwhile rival, Russia. Anthony Di Paola,, 28 Mar. 2022 Several years after earning a pastry arts degree at New York’s erstwhile French Culinary Institute, Peppler journeyed to the City of Light in search of greater work opportunities. Bon Appétit, 25 Mar. 2022 The network’s internal investigation into Cuomo, for example, also contributed in part to the abrupt departure of erstwhile CNN head Jeff Zucker last month. Andy Meek, Forbes, 18 Mar. 2022 The mainstream political groups — the liberals, socialists, and erstwhile conservatives from the EPP, plus the greens and the communists — have allied and set up a tyranny of the majority. Ryszard Legutko, National Review, 17 Mar. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of erstwhile


1569, in the meaning defined above


1849, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of erstwhile was in 1569

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Cite this Entry

“Erstwhile.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on erstwhile

Nglish: Translation of erstwhile for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of erstwhile for Arabic Speakers


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