gra·​va·​men | \ grə-ˈvā-mən How to pronounce gravamen (audio) \
plural gravamens or gravamina\ grə-​ˈva-​mə-​nə How to pronounce gravamen (audio) \

Definition of gravamen

: the material or significant part of a grievance or complaint

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Gravamen is not a word you hear every day, but it does show up occasionally in modern-day publications. It comes from the Latin verb gravare, meaning "to burden," and ultimately from the Latin adjective gravis, meaning "heavy." Fittingly, gravamen refers to the part of a grievance or complaint that gives it weight or substance. In legal contexts, gravamen is used, synonymously with gist, to refer to the grounds on which a legal action is sustainable. Gravis has given English several other weighty words, including gravity, grieve, and the adjective grave, meaning "important" or "serious."

Examples of gravamen in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Still, the gravamen of Trump’s anti-McConnell statement, making the case that the Kentucky Republican is a political disaster compared with the masterly Trump, is risible. Rich Lowry, National Review, 19 Feb. 2021 Righteous anger over the double-standard would, however, have been a good reason for the House to avoid making insurrection the gravamen of its impeachment article. Andrew C. Mccarthy, National Review, 17 Jan. 2021

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

First Known Use of gravamen

1602, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for gravamen

Late Latin, burden, from Latin gravare to burden, from gravis

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The first known use of gravamen was in 1602

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Cite this Entry

“Gravamen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Jun. 2022.

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More Definitions for gravamen


gra·​va·​men | \ grə-ˈvā-mən How to pronounce gravamen (audio) \

Legal Definition of gravamen

: gist

History and Etymology for gravamen

Medieval Latin, from Late Latin, burden, from Latin gravare to burden, from gravis heavy, grave


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