erst·​while | \ˈərst-ˌ(h)wī(-ə)l \

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

formerly, once, onetime

Synonyms: Adjective

former, late, old, once, onetime, other, past, quondam, sometime, whilom

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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


there's now a store where erstwhile lay green and pleasant pastures


my erstwhile friend ignored me when I ran into her at the mall

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

To a certain extent, food halls have served as a catalyst to the retail incubator movement, a means for revitalizing erstwhile storefronts and breathing new life to dilapidated shopping centers. Bethany Biron, Vox, "The food court’s younger, hipper cousin is a curated version of the mall staple.," 30 Oct. 2018 With Hitler’s invading armies poised to overrun Moscow, Soviet leader (and erstwhile bank robber) Joseph Stalin ordered key personnel to evacuate the capital. Tim Folger, Discover Magazine, "Chance Encounters," 17 Aug. 2018 Matched against the dynastic Pats and four-time Super Bowl MVP Brady, the deck seems stacked against Foles now, but history has shown that erstwhile understudies tend to play well on Super Sunday. Nate Davis, USA TODAY, "Ranking best NFL backup QBs to guide teams to Super Bowl," 26 Jan. 2018 And unlike Ellison, Bolton had never broken off his ties with his hateful allies, or renounced their bigotry, much less campaigned for a presidential candidate who belonged to the religious community that his erstwhile friends had vilified. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "John Bolton and The Anti-Muslim Bigotry of Mainstream Conservatism," 27 Mar. 2018 None of his erstwhile Democratic or Republican rivals mentioned the issue either during that campaign. New York Times, "Mayor Vows to ‘Eradicate’ Lead From New York City Housing Projects," 10 July 2018 An erstwhile banker, she’s also taught at UW-Madison and has lived several miles east of Mount Horeb on a turn-of-the-century farm that overlooks the Sugar River since 1993. Brian E. Clark, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "In the Troll Capital of the World, the arts thrive," 6 July 2018 This iconic power has been seized upon with particular fervor by white South Africans, the erstwhile beneficiaries of apartheid. Peter Godwin, WSJ, "Mandela’s Troubled Legacy," 13 July 2018 The Mariners’ erstwhile ace has been dealing with lower back issues the last few outings since tweaking it in a workout in Baltimore. Ryan Divish, The Seattle Times, "Mariners place Felix Hernandez on the 10-day disabled list," 10 July 2018

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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Statistics for erstwhile

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Time Traveler for erstwhile

The first known use of erstwhile was in 1569

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More Definitions for erstwhile



English Language Learners Definition of erstwhile

: in the past

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