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 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 Michael Cohen, the president’s erstwhile lawyer/fixer, the guy who did the boss’s dirty work for over a decade, has agreed to tell all in an open session before the House Oversight Committee on that red-letter day. Lynn Yaeger, Vogue, "The Week in Washington: “They Can Name It Peaches”," 13 Jan. 2019 One of the big revelations of season two of Stranger Things was that Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), Eleven’s erstwhile guardian, is still alive. Karen Han, Vox, "Stranger Things season 3: everything we know so far," 30 July 2018 The erstwhile brunette trotted out a fresh set of highlights, and Twitter took notice. Mattie Kahn, Glamour, "Melania Trump Unveiled Her New Blond Hair on Fox News," 13 Dec. 2018 Surely there had to be some place in the entire state that would make my erstwhile daydreams come true? Gully Wells, WSJ, "A Trip to the Florida of Yore," 12 Dec. 2018 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

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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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).


a shady place in a garden or forest

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