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: Adverb 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, "Across Africa, a reliance on the informal sector threatens effective coronavirus lockdowns," 4 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The frontman, erstwhile essayist, and freewheeling Instagrammer talked to EW via phone about his worst fears, his hopes for the future, and his chili recipe (Cincinnati style, or go home). Leah Greenblatt,, "Dave Grohl on Foo Fighters anniversary plans, his worst fears, and listening to Fiona Apple," 13 May 2020 But the king pre-empted his efforts on March 1 by naming Mahathir’s erstwhile right-hand man, Muhyiddin Yassin, as Malaysia’s eighth prime minister since independence from the U.K. in 1957. Anuradha Raghu,, "Why Malaysia’s Politics Are Messy and What’s at Stake," 10 May 2020 Our newest episode of Killing Eve finds Eve's erstwhile husband in Poland, where life is absolutely goshdarn idyllic. Kat Rosenfield,, "Killing Eve recap: [SPOILER] came to a fork in the road," 4 May 2020 The two erstwhile rivals, speaking from their respective homes where they are confined during the pandemic, had a lengthy conversation that emphasized their shared views on many issues. Janet Hook, Los Angeles Times, "Bernie Sanders endorses Joe Biden for president," 13 Apr. 2020 But that did not persuade the six justices in the erstwhile majority. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "The Supreme Court’s War Over Jury Trials Could Change Everything," 21 Apr. 2020 Big-city columnists from New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit occasionally dropped in for Barons games, while NBA writers routinely came to town to check in on their erstwhile superstar. Creg Stephenson |, al, "‘A magical year’: Looking back at Michael Jordan’s season as a Birmingham Baron," 14 Apr. 2020 He was recommended by the erstwhile Trump adviser Steve Bannon to help guide Trump’s legal response to the investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller., "You're using a browser set to private or incognito mode.," 2 Dec. 2019 This change comes eight months after India revoked Article 370 of the constitution which granted the erstwhile state considerable autonomy within the country—an arrangement put in place at the time of its accession to India in 1947. Riyaz Wani, Quartz India, "India’s new domicile law for Jammu & Kashmir is making residents anxious," 6 Apr. 2020

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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The first known use of erstwhile was in 1569

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Last Updated

13 Apr 2020

Cite this Entry

“Erstwhile.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for erstwhile



English Language Learners Definition of erstwhile

formal : in the past

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