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

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

The Lighthouse Much like his erstwhile screen partner, Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson has enjoyed a frankly astonishing transformation from reluctant heartthrob to indie darling (and, apparently, our next Batman). Marley Marius, Vogue, "5 Under-the-Radar Cannes Films Critics Are Buzzing About," 23 May 2019 With his departure, all the top executives of the erstwhile Time Warner Inc.—which AT&T acquired last year and renamed... Joe Flint, WSJ, "Warner Bros. Chairman, CEO Kevin Tsujihara to Step Down," 18 Mar. 2019 Stare at Marc Ferrez’s jaw-dropping 1895 panoramic photograph of the erstwhile Brazilian capital, with Sugarloaf Mountain looming over Botafogo and Flamengo, and book the next flight. New York Times, "24 Art Exhibitions to View in N.Y.C. This Weekend," 28 June 2018 Omarosa, his erstwhile friend, wrote a book trashing him. Howard Kurtz, Fox News, "Is the president really seething over Sessions and other setbacks?," 21 Sep. 2018 The breach with erstwhile business allies threatens to lead the administration onto shakier ground as its confrontations with top trading partners appears headed for a tipping point. Tory Newmyer, Washington Post, "The Finance 202: Is what's good for General Motors still good for the country?," 3 July 2018 When Pogba was criticized last week by former United legend Paul Scholes, Pogba’s agent, an erstwhile pizzaiolo who turned into one of the most powerful representatives in the game, replied on Twitter by suggesting again that Pogba could leave. Joshua Robinson, WSJ, "Tensions for Manchester United Reach a Boil," 27 Aug. 2018 The formal opening of the frontier paves the way for cross-border trade between the erstwhile enemies after their unexpected reconciliation since Mr. Ahmed took office in April. Nicholas Bariyo, WSJ, "Ethiopia, Eritrea Reopen Border Crossings," 11 Sep. 2018 This time around, the ruling coalition has cosied up to an erstwhile foe, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which has long denounced UMNO. The Economist, "Malaysia’s 92-year-old opposition leader makes a final challenge," 5 May 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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English Language Learners Definition of erstwhile

formal : in the past

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