func·​tion·​ary ˈfəŋ(k)-shə-ˌner-ē How to pronounce functionary (audio)
plural functionaries
: one who serves in a certain function
: one holding office in a government or political party

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 Its functionaries have done their utmost to convince those who still believe in its legitimacy that their faith is unfounded. Noah Rothman, National Review, 20 May 2024 For the next thirty years, the conference was where NATO functionaries could, without too much media glare, fine-tune European and U.S. relations, adjusting the degree of European autonomy as suited the moment. Thomas Meaney, Harper's Magazine, 26 Apr. 2024 The primary protagonist of Patriots is Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky (Michael Stuhlbarg), who played an important role in elevating Putin from no-name functionary of the security services to president-for-life — and lived to regret it. Christian Holub,, 22 Apr. 2024 These few were flagged with a fluorescent-pink note that read this case file is currently with the tenant advocacy project clinic (located in the hallway), a signal to the court’s many functionaries that the case might not proceed as quickly as the others. Mya Frazier, Harper's Magazine, 26 Feb. 2024 In addition to the front-line fighters who battled rival Syrian and Iraqi factions, thousands of functionaries engaged in such mundane bureaucratic tasks as collecting taxes and conducting restaurant food-safety inspections. Anand Gopal, The New Yorker, 11 Mar. 2024 The response by a functionary was widely thought of as absurdly anachronistic: A scene in which hooligans stone to death a baby in a pram could not be publicly staged. Benedict Nightingale, New York Times, 6 Mar. 2024 That would be desirable if the goal of this action is to restore regional stability by reimposing caution on Iran and its functionaries. The Editors, National Review, 5 Feb. 2024 In some universities, for example, every classroom has an informant who provides a biweekly or monthly report to a handler who is usually a party functionary. Minxin Pei, Foreign Affairs, 6 Feb. 2024

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

Word History

First Known Use

circa 1785, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of functionary was circa 1785

Dictionary Entries Near functionary

Cite this Entry

“Functionary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


func·​tion·​ary ˈfəŋ(k)-shə-ˌner-ē How to pronounce functionary (audio)
plural functionaries
: a person who works for a government or political party

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