fam·​ish ˈfa-mish How to pronounce famish (audio)
famished; famishing; famishes

transitive verb

: to cause to suffer severely from hunger
archaic : to cause to starve to death

intransitive verb

archaic : starve
: to suffer for lack of something necessary
a moment when French poetry in particular was famishing for such inventionT. S. Eliot
famishment noun

Did you know?

Famish likely developed as an alteration of Middle English famen, meaning "to starve." The Middle English word was borrowed from the Anglo-French verb afamer, which etymologists believe came from Vulgar Latin affamare. We say "believe" because, while no written evidence has yet been found for the Vulgar Latin word affamare, it would be the expected source for the Anglo-French verb based on the combination of the Latin prefix ad- ("to" or "toward") and the root noun fames ("hunger"). In contemporary English, the verb famish is still used on occasion, but it is considerably less common than the related adjective famished, which usually means "hungry" or "starving" but can also mean "needy" or "being in want."

Examples of famish in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The migrants pause in the region, famished and nearly half their starting weight, to spend about a month scarfing down crab eggs to power them through the last leg of their journey. Margaret Osborne, Smithsonian Magazine, 20 June 2023 Each household can bring their guy's favorite dish for a menu that is sure to please all famished fathers in attendance. Alyssa Longobucco, House Beautiful, 13 May 2023 Beverly and Elliot, both played by Weisz, have just gotten off their shift and are famished; Elliot is seen inhaling her burger under the grim overhead lighting. Jennifer Wilson, The New Republic, 8 May 2023 Dear Amy: At the end of an extremely long road trip, my fiancée, her 16-year-old son and I stopped at a noisy sports bar at 9:30 p.m. – famished. Amy Dickinson, oregonlive, 22 Apr. 2023 Or that his pan-religious message of love and godliness is embraced by the spiritually famished. John Anderson, WSJ, 31 Dec. 2019 Y’all might be famished, but Joe stays fat these days. Joseph Goodman, al, 21 Nov. 2019 Afterward, both of us were famished but neither wanted to cook. Alejandro Varela, Harper's magazine, 16 Sep. 2019 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'famish.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, probably alteration of famen, from Anglo-French afamer, from Vulgar Latin *affamare, from Latin ad- + fames

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of famish was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near famish

Cite this Entry

“Famish.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/famish. Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


fam·​ish ˈfam-ish How to pronounce famish (audio)
: to suffer or cause to suffer from extreme hunger
: to suffer from a lack of something necessary
famishment noun

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