habit

1 of 2

noun

hab·​it ˈha-bət How to pronounce habit (audio)
1
: a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior
her habit of taking a morning walk
2
a
: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary
got up early from force of habit
b
: addiction
a drug habit
c
: a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance
the daily bowel habit
3
a
: a costume characteristic of a calling, rank, or function
a nun's habit
b
: a costume worn for horseback riding
4
archaic : clothing
5
: manner of conducting oneself : bearing
6
: bodily appearance or makeup
a man of fleshy habit
7
: the prevailing disposition or character of a person's thoughts and feelings : mental makeup
a philosophical habit
8
of an organism : characteristic mode of growth or occurrence
a grass similar to Indian corn in habit
9
of a crystal : characteristic assemblage of forms at crystallization leading to a usual appearance : shape

habit

2 of 2

verb

habited; habiting; habits

transitive verb

literary
: to cover with or as if with clothing : clothe
… she habited herself in a peculiarly becoming dress of white linen …E. F. Benson
(figurative) It is the nature of such pedantry to habit itself in a harsh and crabbed style.Richard M. Weaver

Did you know?

The Origin and Etymology of Habit

The word habit most often refers to a usual way of behaving or a tendency that someone has settled into, as in "good eating habits."

In its oldest sense, however, habit meant "clothing" and had nothing to do with the things a person does in a regular and repeated way. Today, this meaning is preserved only in phrases like "nun's habit," "monk's habit," and "riding habit" (clothes worn for horseback riding).

Like so many words that appeared in English in the centuries following the Norman Conquest, habit came from French. Indeed, the modern French word for clothes is habits (pronounced \ah-bee\). In English, habit progressed from meaning “clothing” to “clothing for a particular profession or purpose” to “bearing, conduct, behavior." (The word’s evolution brings to mind the old adage “the clothes make the man," which asserts that the way we dress reflects our character.)

From “what one wears” to “how one conducts oneself,” habit continued to evolve, referring to appearance (“a man of fleshy habit”) and mental makeup (“a philosophical habit”) before, after several centuries in English, it came to mean repeated activity: “a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition.”

The specific development of habit to refer to drug addiction began in the 19th century, with reference to opium.

Interestingly, even though “clothing” is the oldest meaning of habit in English, it wasn’t the original meaning of the word's ultimate Latin root, habitus. In Latin, that word’s original meaning was “state of being” or “condition.”

Our most common use of habit today, “acquired mode of behavior,” didn’t exist in Latin—habitus went from meaning “condition” to “how one conducts oneself” to “clothing.” That it was adapted into English in precisely the reverse order is an accident of history; the order of meanings absorbed from one language to another rarely constitutes a logical development. As with all language, meaning is established by usage and force of habit.

Choose the Right Synonym for habit

habit, practice, usage, custom, wont mean a way of acting fixed through repetition.

habit implies a doing unconsciously and often compulsively.

had a habit of tapping his fingers

practice suggests an act or method followed with regularity and usually through choice.

our practice is to honor all major credit cards

usage suggests a customary action so generally followed that it has become a social norm.

western-style dress is now common usage in international business

custom applies to a practice or usage so steadily associated with an individual or group as to have almost the force of unwritten law.

the custom of wearing black at funerals

wont usually applies to a habitual manner, method, or practice of an individual or group.

as was her wont, she slept until noon

Examples of habit in a Sentence

Noun It was his habit to take a nap after dinner every evening. It's important that parents teach their children good study habits. He fell into some bad habits after graduating from college. It's never easy to break a bad habit. He still gets up early every day from habit. She always closed the door softly out of habit. He hasn't been able to kick his cocaine habit. Verb his exclusive clothing store had habited the town's upper crust for as long as anyone could remember
Recent Examples on the Web
Noun
But that would require not just fighting Biden’s downdraft, but also overcoming the country’s increasingly partisan voting habits. Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times, 10 July 2024 Staying consistent despite resistance Parents might encounter resistance when starting out with this new habit, especially from older kids. Allison Palmer, Charlotte Observer, 10 July 2024 Keeping your pooch well exercised and entertained is another way to deter them from developing negative habits, the site advised. David Faris, Newsweek, 10 July 2024 But heart-healthy habits have additional benefits regardless of their effect on your cholesterol, such as greater longevity, improved cardiovascular fitness, and lower risk of heart disease. Sarah Klein, TIME, 10 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for habit 

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

Word History

Etymology

Noun and Verb

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin habitus condition, character, from habēre to have, hold — more at give

First Known Use

Noun

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

Verb

1594, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of habit was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near habit

Cite this Entry

“Habit.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/habit. Accessed 20 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

habit

noun
hab·​it
ˈhab-ət
1
: a costume characteristic of an occupation, rank, or function
her riding habit
a nun's habit
2
: a usual manner of behavior or thinking
his habit of taking a morning walk
3
: a way of behaving that has become fixed by being repeated often compare reflex entry 1 sense 1
4
: characteristic way of growing or occurring
elms have a spreading habit

Medical Definition

habit

noun
hab·​it ˈhab-ət How to pronounce habit (audio)
1
: bodily appearance or makeup especially as indicative of one's capacities and condition
a man of fleshy habit
2
: a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior
3
a
: a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiological exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance
the daily bowel habit
b
: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary
locked the door through force of habit
c
: addiction
was forced to steal to support his drug habit
4
: characteristic mode of growth or occurrence

More from Merriam-Webster on habit

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