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

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Synonyms for erstwhile

Synonyms: Adverb

Synonyms: Adjective

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Did You Know?


The adverb erstwhile has been part of English since the 16th century, but it is formed from two words that are much older. It comes from the Old English words ær, meaning "early," and hwīl, which has much the same meaning as the modern word while. (The English word ere, meaning "before," is also descendant of ær.) The adjective erstwhile, as in erstwhile enemies, joined the language around 1900.

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: Adjective Malt extract was another popular alternative product for erstwhile brewers. Neil Reid, WSJ, "America’s Bad Taste in Beer Is Prohibition’s Legacy," 16 Jan. 2020 Wondering how Carlos Ghosn, the erstwhile CEO of Nissan and Renault and fugitive from Japanese law enforcement, made his great escape from Tokyo? Robert Hackett, Fortune, "The NSA patches up its reputation with a gift to Microsoft," 15 Jan. 2020 There’s already evidence of what’s possible as a 2017 report by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development showed Africans accounted for 40% of international tourist arrivals on the continent despite erstwhile visa and travel complications. Yomi Kazeem, Quartz Africa, "Africans can now travel across more than half of the continent without getting visas beforehand," 10 Jan. 2020 Mobile phone, landline, and internet services have been disconnected in the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir. Niharika Sharma, Quartz India, "India’s top court asks the government to review the internet curbs imposed in Kashmir," 9 Jan. 2020 Always, though, the point of the anecdote is the same: Armstrong improvised a joke on his erstwhile jailers and took care not to let them in on it. Nicholas Frankovich, National Review, "Satchmo’s Smile," 9 Jan. 2020 That was the message delivered at a community meeting Monday night on new plans for the erstwhile GE headquarters site in Fort Point, where the industrial giant in 2016 received city permits for a futuristic-looking 12-story office building. Tim Logan,, "New plan for former GE site doesn’t impress some neighbors," 7 Jan. 2020 In an interview with The Times, Laurents, 91 and long known for trading jabs with erstwhile (and, by then, mostly dead) creative partners, called Robbins’s 1980 revival bland. Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times, "‘West Side Story’: How We Covered the Classic N.Y.C. Musical," 2 Jan. 2020 Tomer introduced me to Manfred Lin, an erstwhile engineer and third-generation hawker who arrives daily at 7:30 a.m. to make his mee, a family recipe for the traditional dish of yellow noodles in thick broth cooked over a charcoal stove. Liza Weisstuch,, "Getting a taste of Singapore’s famously flavorful street food," 14 Oct. 2019

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.

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First Known Use of erstwhile


1569, in the meaning defined above


1849, in the meaning defined above

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Time Traveler for erstwhile

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The first known use of erstwhile was in 1569

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Cite this Entry

“Erstwhile.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 23 January 2020.

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More Definitions for erstwhile



English Language Learners Definition of erstwhile

formal : in the past

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Comments on erstwhile

What made you want to look up erstwhile? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


out of the ordinary or unreasonable

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