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

In 1994, with the country in the midst of a severe famine, leader Kim Il Sung passed away, and his oldest son, Kim Jong Il, took power. Katherine Nails, Philly.com, "U.S.-North Korea relations: Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un to have summit in Singapore," 11 June 2018 In the summer that Somalia experienced the worst famine since the civil war, she and her children were granted asylum in London. Sadia Hassan, Longreads, "Silence is a Lonely Country: A Prayer in Twelve Parts," 13 July 2018 What started as survival entrepreneurialism during the devastating famine of the 1990s has grown into a full-blown capitalist economy, complete with de facto privatized production, competing bus and taxi companies, and individual investment. Hannah Song, Time, "Forget Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Here’s Why the People of North Korea Are the Real Solution," 13 June 2018 When Kim Jong Il took over in 94 that's when the famine started getting worse. Fox News, "How Trump differs from past presidents on North Korea," 12 June 2018 The Kims held power through the brutal enforcement of a family personality cult, even though average North Koreans who survived the famine were becoming aware that life was better elsewhere thanks to surging defections. John Lyons, WSJ, "From ‘Punk Kid’ to 21st Century Tyrant: Kim Jong Un Seizes His Moment," 8 June 2018 Given the current climate, fonio could be the difference between feast and famine in the region. Richard Morgan, Bloomberg.com, "This African Super Grain Could Solve Famine and Drought (Plus It’s Gluten-Free)," 28 Feb. 2018 Irish immigrants fleeing the terrible famine of the 1840s filled up Corktown and gave the district its name from the city and county in Ireland. John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press, "Here's what you might not know about Corktown's history," 9 July 2018 But after a severe, prolonged famine in the North in the mid-1990s, the TB bacterium spread rapidly among malnourished survivors. Richard Stone, Science | AAAS, "Major donor nixes effort to combat tuberculosis crisis in North Korea," 29 June 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

22 Oct 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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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 express warning or disapproval

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