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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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 Mitch McConnell is a jerk!—receive little attention, even from his erstwhile allies. Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, "It’s Morning (and Mourning) in Biden’s America," 12 Mar. 2021 The resulting scandal is a test of the power of Gaetz’s celebrity now that his erstwhile ally Fox News appears to have dropped him. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, "Fox News Made Matt Gaetz," 12 Apr. 2021 In January 2020, our erstwhile USA TODAY colleague Roscoe Nance died. Erik Brady, USA TODAY, "Opening day brings memories of a great friend to baseball," 1 Apr. 2021 One candidate is Naftali Bennett, an erstwhile coalition partner and former defense minister who broke with Netanyahu to form his own party. Washington Post, "Netanyahu’s political future unclear as early vote tallies show no certain winner in Israeli election," 24 Mar. 2021 Both were defeated but are viewed as naturals for Gaetz’s seat by his erstwhile supporters. Katherine Doyle, Washington Examiner, "'Vultures are circling' a defiant Matt Gaetz as supporters discuss possible special election," 3 Apr. 2021 The erstwhile Dean Winchester will voice Batman in the upcoming DC animated film Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One, EW has confirmed. Tyler Aquilina,, "Jensen Ackles, Naya Rivera, and more to star in Batman: The Long Halloween animated movie," 31 Mar. 2021 On the court, the Spurs have long since moved on without Aldridge, their erstwhile eldest statesman. Jeff Mcdonald, San Antonio Express-News, "San Antionio Spurs' push to deal LaMarcus Aldridge down to 11th hour," 24 Mar. 2021 Since completing its departure from the EU at the start of the year, the British government has launched into scraps with its erstwhile colleagues. The Economist, "Charlemagne How the British became the new Turks," 20 Mar. 2021

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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Cite this Entry

“Erstwhile.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for erstwhile



English Language Learners Definition of erstwhile

formal : in the past

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