ha·​mar·​tia ˌhä-ˌmär-ˈtē-ə How to pronounce hamartia (audio)

Did you know?

Hamartia arose from the Greek verb hamartanein, meaning "to miss the mark" or "to err." Aristotle introduced the term in the Poetics to describe the error of judgment which ultimately brings about the tragic hero's downfall. As you can imagine, the word is most often found in literary criticism. However, media writers occasionally employ the word when discussing the unexplainable misfortune or missteps of celebrities regarded as immortal gods and goddesses before being felled by their own shortcomings. For example, a writer for The New Republic in an April 2018 review of Chappaquiddick (a movie about U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy) comments that "Kennedy's ruthlessness and ambition, which are treated as the family's hamartia in Chappaquiddick, are swept under the rug of his compassion."

Examples of hamartia in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Kennedy’s ruthlessness and ambition—which are treated as the Kennedys’ hamartia in Chappaquiddick—are swept under the rug of his compassion. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 30 Apr. 2018

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

Word History


Greek, from hamartanein to miss the mark, err

First Known Use

1913, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of hamartia was in 1913


Dictionary Entries Near hamartia

Cite this Entry

“Hamartia.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hamartia. Accessed 24 Sep. 2023.

Medical Definition


ˌhäm-ˌär-ˈtē-ə also hə-ˈmär-sh(ē-)ə

More from Merriam-Webster on hamartia

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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