gen·​teel jen-ˈtēl How to pronounce genteel (audio)
: having an aristocratic quality or flavor : stylish
: of or relating to the gentry or upper class
a person of genteel upbringing
: elegant or graceful in manner, appearance, or shape
the genteel manners of an old southern gentleman
: free from vulgarity or rudeness : polite
: maintaining or striving to maintain the appearance of superior or middle-class social status or respectability
a shabby genteel mansion
: marked by false delicacy, prudery, or affectation
was genteel on the surface, but had a hard heart
: conventionally or insipidly pretty
timid and genteel artistic style
genteelly adverb
genteelness noun

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Get Fancy With Genteel

The word genteel has some familiar English relatives, including gentle, gentrify, and gentility. All come from the Latin noun gens, used to refer to a group of related people. That word's plural, gentes, was used in Roman times to classify the people of the world, particularly non-Romans. Similarly, the English gentile refers to people who are not Jewish, or who don’t follow other specific religions. Many non-English words come from gens as well, including the Spanish gente, meaning “people.” To say gens has made its mark would be putting it gently.

Examples of genteel in a Sentence

a person of genteel upbringing She was born into a genteel family. an elderly woman living in genteel poverty speaking in a genteel accent They lived in a more genteel era. the genteel manners of an old southern gentleman
Recent Examples on the Web Under more genteel circumstances, the film might be described as a story of education, something like David Copperfield but with endless explosions, chases, fires, maimings and murders. Tom Gliatto, Peoplemag, 24 May 2024 But the muted, genteel tone of the novel’s opening section continues into this exciting new American era, via the first-person voice of Katherine Taylor, Nick and Bet’s daughter, now in her early 20s. Kate Christensen, New York Times, 11 May 2024 Dorothea Brooke, the genteel protagonist of Middlemarch, reaches a critical decision by simply looking out the window and realizing that actual existence is everywhere except in her own parlor. Emily Harnett, Harper's Magazine, 26 Apr. 2024 Yet despite its genteel reputation and simple objective — touch an opponent with your blade before being touched — the sport has long been rife with drama and suspicion. Jeré Longman, New York Times, 9 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for genteel 

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

Word History


borrowed from French gentil literally, "of aristocratic birth," going back to Old French — more at gentle entry 1

First Known Use

1601, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of genteel was in 1601


Dictionary Entries Near genteel

Cite this Entry

“Genteel.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


gen·​teel jen-ˈtē(ə)l How to pronounce genteel (audio)
: of or relating to the upper classes
: free from bad manners or bad taste
genteelly adverb
genteelness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on genteel

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