\ ˈjərm How to pronounce germ (audio) \
plural germs

Definition of germ

1a : a small mass of living substance capable of developing into an organism or one of its parts
b : the embryo with the scutellum of a cereal grain that is usually separated from the starchy endosperm during milling
2 : something that initiates development or serves as an origin : rudiments, beginning
3 : a microorganism causing disease : a pathogenic agent (such as a bacterium or virus) broadly : microorganism

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Examples of germ in a Sentence

the germ that causes tuberculosis the germ of an idea the germ layers of an embryo
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Recent Examples on the Web Here's what to know about the easily-spreading RSV germ. Julie Mazziotta,, 14 June 2021 Most patients report skin popping or muscle popping black tar heroin, but the direct link to the germ is unclear, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alexandria Hein, Fox News, 11 June 2021 While the cause of Covid-19 was quickly identified as a coronavirus, DeRisi notes, that won’t necessarily be the case with whatever germ creates the next pandemic. New York Times, 3 June 2021 While the hull is removed, the rest of the grain — the coarse outer bran, the carb-laden endosperm interior (the source of refined flour in wheat grains) and the fat-containing germ — remains. Washington Post, 12 Apr. 2021 Most carnaroli producers would discard the germ that gives brown rice its color and nutritious reputation, but the Rondolinos are not most. Ali Francis, Bon Appétit, 8 Apr. 2021 As with so many platitudes, a germ of truth supports it. New York Times, 29 Apr. 2021 The idea for Nicollet Plaza may have been the germ for two separate downtown institutions: the skyways and Nicollet Mall. James Lileks, Star Tribune, 23 Apr. 2021 Inspiration requires a germ of an idea, and the singer’s headshot delivered the basis on which Lopez-Rivera could build a foundation. Emma Fraser, Vulture, 21 Apr. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'germ.' 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 germ

circa 1550, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for germ

French germe, from Latin germin-, germen, from gignere to beget — more at kin

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Last Updated

14 Jul 2021

Cite this Entry

“Germ.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Jul. 2021.

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More Definitions for germ



English Language Learners Definition of germ

biology : a very small living thing that causes disease
: the origin or basis of something
: a very small amount of something


\ ˈjərm How to pronounce germ (audio) \

Kids Definition of germ

1 : a source from which something develops the germ of an idea
2 : a microorganism (as a bacterium) that causes disease
3 : a bit of living matter (as a cell) capable of forming a new individual or one of its parts


\ ˈjərm How to pronounce germ (audio) \

Medical Definition of germ

1 : a small mass of living substance capable of developing into an organism or one of its parts
2 : a microorganism causing disease : a pathogenic agent (as a bacterium or virus) broadly : microorganism

More from Merriam-Webster on germ

Nglish: Translation of germ for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of germ for Arabic Speakers


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