gra·​va·​men grə-ˈvā-mən How to pronounce gravamen (audio)
plural gravamens or gravamina grə-ˈva-mə-nə How to pronounce gravamen (audio)
: the material or significant part of a grievance or complaint

Did you know?

Gravamen is not a word you hear every day (even rarer is gravamina, the less expected of its two plural forms; gravamens is the other), 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 to refer to the grounds on which a legal action is allowed or upheld as valid. (The word is synonymous with a legal use of gist not found outside technical contexts). Gravis has given English several other heavy words that throw their weight around more frequently, 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 examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'gravamen.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1602, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of gravamen was in 1602


Dictionary Entries Near gravamen

Cite this Entry

“Gravamen.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Apr. 2024.

Legal Definition


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

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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