1 of 2


erst·​while ˈərst-ˌ(h)wī(-ə)l How to pronounce erstwhile (audio)
: in the past : formerly
cultures, erstwhile unknown to each otherRobert Plank


2 of 2


: former, previous
erstwhile enemies

Did you know?

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 reunion
Recent Examples on the Web
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
With former president Donald Trump now accused of 91 felonies in four historic indictments, the legal woes of his erstwhile senior trade adviser, Peter Navarro, have been reduced to a prosecutorial sideshow. Paul Duggan, Washington Post, 5 Sep. 2023 And scandals can alter the other side of the equation, too: the powerful have less ability to retaliate if their erstwhile allies abandon them in order to avoid being tainted by the scandal themselves. Amanda Taub, New York Times, 30 Aug. 2023 The erstwhile agency, AHRC, for instance, had had one with the RCMP, according to their 2007-8 annual report. Hazlitt, 30 Aug. 2023 But was that truly the purpose of the night? Entering the debate, former President Trump held a huge lead over all other contenders for the nomination, and his erstwhile strongest challenger, Ron DeSantis, was rapidly losing altitude. David Lauter, Los Angeles Times, 25 Aug. 2023 After hours of speculation on Prigozhin’s fate, Putin on Thursday appeared to eulogize his erstwhile ally. Francesca Ebel, Washington Post, 24 Aug. 2023 Finding Ezra means Sabine’s forced to brush shoulders with Ahsoka, who turns out to be the former’s erstwhile Jedi master. Lauren Puckett-Pope, ELLE, 23 Aug. 2023 Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Henry and Taylor Zakhar Perez as Alex Claremont-Diaz in Red, White & Royal Blue Jonathan Prime—Prime Video No story epitomizes this new sensibility like Beach Read, the breakthrough novel by erstwhile YA author Emily Henry. Time, 11 Aug. 2023 The Issue 1 results also could energize Democrats to boost Brown after being burned by a string of losses in the erstwhile swing state. Isabella Murray, ABC News, 10 Aug. 2023 See More

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

Word History

First Known Use


1569, in the meaning defined above


1849, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of erstwhile was in 1569


Dictionary Entries Near erstwhile

Cite this Entry

“Erstwhile.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adverb
erst·​while ˈərst-ˌ(h)wīl How to pronounce erstwhile (audio)
: in the past : once, formerly


2 of 2 adjective

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