func·​tion·​ary | \ ˈfəŋ(k)-shə-ˌner-ē How to pronounce functionary (audio) \
plural functionaries

Definition of functionary

1 : one who serves in a certain function
2 : one holding office in a government or political party

Keep scrolling for more

Did You Know?

For most of us, being described as a functionary wouldn't be a compliment. The word refers especially to a person of lower rank, with little or no authority, who must carry out someone else's orders. Bureaucrat is often a synonym. However, functionary can also refer to the world beyond government and offices; a character in a play, for example, could be called a functionary if it was obvious that her sole function was to keep the plot moving.

Examples of functionary in a Sentence

He was a party functionary during the political campaign. spoke to high-ranking functionaries at the embassy in the hopes that they could help
Recent Examples on the Web The founders of a museum that exposes the horrors of the Gulag are fired and replaced by a government functionary, and the museum’s exhibits are censored. Sophie Pinkham, The New York Review of Books, "Living by Lies," 3 Aug. 2020 The embassy in Washington had attempted to persuade American officials to allow its functionaries to act as observers in polling places. Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, "The 2016 Election Was Just a Dry Run," 11 May 2020 At the start of the film, Kopfrkingl is a bourgeois functionary: a teetotaler, an aesthete, a family man, and a student of Buddhist philosophy. Jeremy Lybarger, The New York Review of Books, "The Mordant Fables of Juraj Herz," 20 Apr. 2020 The dismissals of the provincial and city party chiefs reflected a move against functionaries of a higher political level. Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, "China Ousts 2 Party Officials Amid Outrage About Coronavirus Response," 13 Feb. 2020 Unlike most Israelis – who see Jewish history as a justification for the state of Israel and understand the Israeli army and police as existing to protect them – some Israeli Haredim distrust the government and its functionaries. Joyce Dalsheim, The Conversation, "Jewish history explains why some ultra-Orthodox communities defy coronavirus restrictions," 27 Apr. 2020 The factory is a world of its own, as an HR functionary explains: Apartment complexes, supermarkets, a bowling alley, karaoke. Rumaan Alam, The New Republic, "The Factory Is a Chilling Account of the Contemporary Workplace," 2 Dec. 2019 The Asian-Americans now being taunted and physically attacked on our streets as a consequence of this idea are not functionaries of Xi Jinping. Osita Nwanevu, The New Republic, "The Disunited States of America," 23 Mar. 2020 Instead, kleptocrats and incompetents are replaced by sycophants and functionaries — the latter, ironically, even more capable of dismantling effective governance. Jacob S. Hacker, Washington Post, "The missteps and misdeeds of Trump’s Cabinet," 1 Aug. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'functionary.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of functionary

circa 1785, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about functionary

Time Traveler for functionary

Time Traveler

The first known use of functionary was circa 1785

See more words from the same year

Statistics for functionary

Last Updated

13 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Functionary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Aug. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for functionary


How to pronounce functionary (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of functionary

: a person who works for a government or political party

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on functionary

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for functionary

Spanish Central: Translation of functionary

Nglish: Translation of functionary for Spanish Speakers

Comments on functionary

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Original Meanings Quiz

  • rembrandt painting a young scholar and his tutor
  • Which of the following is the earliest known sense of the word awe?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!