fam·​ine | \ˈfa-mən \

Definition of famine 

1 : an extreme scarcity of food The famine affected most of the country.

2 archaic : starvation

3 archaic : a ravenous appetite

4 : a great shortage Transportation problems resulted in a coal famine.

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Examples of famine in a Sentence

The famine affected half the continent. millions killed by war, drought, and famine

Recent Examples on the Web

Deprived of nutrients in utero, the famine survivors carried persistent differences in their epigenetic markers from other adults. John Hawks, WSJ, "‘Lamarck’s Revenge’ Review: Inheriting the Wrong Ideas," 16 Aug. 2018 Unable to buy cheap petroleum that had long been imported from the Soviet Union, many people lived in austerity and near-famine conditions. Molly Glentzer, Houston Chronicle, "Art Daybook: Belkis Ayón’s Cuban perspective," 20 June 2018 They could be blamed for almost anything, from human deaths through to mass famine. Longreads, "Fairy Scapegoats: A History of the Persecution of Changeling Children," 9 June 2018 If such imports are restricted, aid agencies predict mass famine. W.j. Hennigan, Time, "The Saudi Crown Prince Is Pledging Aid to Yemen Even as He Hits It With Airstrikes," 6 Apr. 2018 If McKillop and Aoyama are correct, the Maya join a long list of civilizations that relied on trade in salted fish to provide a storable, high-calorie food source in times of famine. Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica, "Small Mayan saltworks could have supplied thousands, preserved food," 9 Oct. 2018 The United Nations says Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, faces the world's greatest humanitarian disaster, with 75 percent of its 29 million people in need of assistance and millions on the brink of famine. Jamey Keaten, Fox News, "UN rights body renews experts' probe of Yemen crimes," 28 Sep. 2018 The United Nations, there are five stages of famine. Eric Johnson, Recode, "Big data could ‘stop famines from ever happening again,’ says World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim," 24 Sep. 2018 Rather than grow and divide, cells in famine mode are, in effect, stalled. Mark Barna, Discover Magazine, "Not So Fast," 24 Sep. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'famine.' 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 famine

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for famine

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from feim, faim hunger, from Latin fames

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Statistics for famine

Last Updated

3 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for famine

The first known use of famine was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for famine



English Language Learners Definition of famine

: a situation in which many people do not have enough food to eat


fam·​ine | \ˈfa-mən \

Kids Definition of famine

: a very great shortage of food that affects many people over a wide area

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More from Merriam-Webster on famine

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with famine

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for famine

Spanish Central: Translation of famine

Nglish: Translation of famine for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of famine for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about famine

Comments on famine

What made you want to look up famine? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to make faulty or ineffective

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