\ ˈer How to pronounce heir (audio) \

Definition of heir

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : one who receives property from an ancestor : one who is entitled to inherit property was her father's sole heir
2 : one who inherits or is entitled to succeed to a hereditary rank, title, or office heir to the throne
3 : one who receives or is entitled to receive something other than property from a parent or predecessor saw himself as the logical heir to the slain dictator


heired; heiring; heirs

Definition of heir (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

chiefly dialectal

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Other Words from heir


heirless \ ˈer-​ləs How to pronounce heir (audio) \ adjective
heirship \ ˈer-​ˌship How to pronounce heir (audio) \ noun

Synonyms for heir

Synonyms: Noun

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Examples of heir in a Sentence

Noun His heirs could inherit millions of dollars. The king left no heirs when he died.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Owner Charlotte Weber, who races under the stable name Live Oak Plantation, is the heir to the Campbell’s Soup fortune and often gives her horses playful names in that vein. BostonGlobe.com, "Handicapping the 2021 Kentucky Derby," 29 Apr. 2021 The PRO Act is the heir to the last major union-friendly legislation considered by Congress. Los Angeles Times, "Column: Sen. Joe Manchin pushes a sweeping pro-union labor law one step closer to reality," 20 Apr. 2021 The 72-year-old, also known as the Prince of Wales, is the longest-ever serving heir to the British throne. Max Colchester, WSJ, "Prince Charles, Heir to the Throne for Nearly 70 Years, Moves Closer to Center Stage," 11 Apr. 2021 John Mars is an heir to Mars candy and pet food fortune. Lisette Voytko, Forbes, "Here’s The Richest Billionaire In Every U.S. State 2021," 7 Apr. 2021 In that sense, Sosnik argued, Biden’s sweeping legislative agenda really is the heir to L.B.J. and F.D.R., and a worthy successor to the great middle-class social programs of the past century. Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, "Is Biden Really the Second Coming of F.D.R. and L.B.J.?," 1 Apr. 2021 Charles, her heir, headed the procession, joined by his sister, Princess Anne. BostonGlobe.com, "Prince Philip is laid to rest in a somber 50-minute ceremony," 17 Apr. 2021 Charles, her heir, headed the procession, joined by his sister, Princess Anne. Mark Landler, New York Times, "Prince Philip Is Laid to Rest in a Somber 50-Minute Ceremony," 17 Apr. 2021 Buckingham Palace announced the list on Thursday: The queen, her heir Prince Charles the Prince of Wales, his sons, Prince William Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry Duke of Sussex, and Charles' and William's duchess wives, Camilla and Kate. Maria Puente, USA TODAY, "Who's going to Prince Philip's funeral? What to expect from the royal family," 15 Apr. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The Elorza administration disclosed for the first time Thursday that the secret funder is the Wend Collective, a social impact fund started by Walmart heir James Walton. BostonGlobe.com, "A secret donor has been paying for major Providence projects. Here’s who it is," 16 Apr. 2021 Twenty-three billionaires have died since mid March 2020, including Switzerland’s Benjamin de Rothschild, heir to a storied banking fortune; Brazilian banking tycoon Joseph Safra and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Kerry A. Dolan, Forbes, "Forbes’ 35th Annual World’s Billionaires List: Facts And Figures 2021," 6 Apr. 2021 In 1919, it was purchased by Malcolm Matheson, who was heir to a fortune. Washington Post, "George Washington’s historic River Farm is worth saving for reasons beyond the president, historians say," 12 Apr. 2021 Prince Charles, heir to the throne, is a different character from his direct and forceful father. Stephen Fidler, WSJ, "In Mourning a Prince, Britain Remembers Heroic Days of World War II, Empire," 10 Apr. 2021 England's Royals are the best-known in the world, and can trace heir roots back nearly 1,200 years. USA Today, "Prince Philip has died. A look at the British royal family tree, spanning four generations.," 9 Apr. 2021 Media heir Gary Magness gained $500 million and is worth $1.6 billion. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, "Nursing home isolation, Oahu weddings, eligibility rolls: News from around our 50 states," 29 Mar. 2021 Prince Charles, the royal couple’s first born and heir to the throne, visited his father Feb. 20. NBC News, "Prince Philip transferred to different hospital to undergo tests and treat infection," 1 Mar. 2021 Marc and Alicia Belton live in one of the grand homes on Lake of the Isles, a Mediterranean manse once owned by Paul Magers and, briefly, by publishing heir Par Ridder. Rohan Preston, Star Tribune, "For Twin Cities power couple and their family, home is an extension of faithful service," 26 Feb. 2021

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


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for heir


Middle English eir, eyre, heir, borrowed from Anglo-French heir, going back to Vulgar Latin *hērem, *hēre, taken as oblique forms (by declension reassignment) of Latin hērēd-, hērēs, from hēr- (probably going back to Indo-European *ǵheh1ro- "abandoned, derelict," whence also Greek chêros "widowed, orphaned, bereaved," chérā "widow") + -ēd-, perhaps a suffixal element

Note: Latin hērēd- has been directly compared with the base of Greek chērōstaí "kinsmen inheriting the property of a person lacking closer relatives" (with the agent suffix -tēs). Opposing the interpretation of *-ēd-/*-ōd- as a suffixal element is an older explanation that sees the etymon as a compound of *ǵheh1ro- and the verbal base *h1ed- "eat"—the whole hence meaning approximately "that which devours what is left behind." (The Greek outcome would then be from *ǵheh1ro-h1d-, with zero grade of the verb.) The adjective *ǵheh1ro- has been taken as a derivative of the verbal base *ǵheh1- "let go, leave behind" (see go entry 1).


Middle English erren, heyren, derivative of eir, eyre heir entry 1

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Time Traveler for heir

Time Traveler

The first known use of heir was in the 13th century

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Statistics for heir

Last Updated

10 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Heir.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/heir. Accessed 10 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for heir



English Language Learners Definition of heir

: a person who has the legal right to receive the property of someone who dies
: a person who has the right to become a king or queen or to claim a title when the person holding it dies


\ ˈer How to pronounce heir (audio) \

Kids Definition of heir

1 : a person who inherits or has the right to inherit property after the death of its owner
2 : a person who has legal claim to a title or a throne when the person holding it dies


\ ˈar How to pronounce heir (audio) \

Legal Definition of heir

: one who inherits or is entitled to succeed to the possession of property after the death of its owner: as
a : one who by operation of law inherits the property and especially the real property of a person who dies without leaving a valid will used in jurisdictions whose law is based on English common law

called also heir at law, heir general, legal heir

— compare issue
b in the civil law of Louisiana : one who succeeds to the estate of a person by will or especially by operation of law — see also intestacy, unworthy — compare ancestor, devisee, legatee, next of kin, successor
apparent heir
: heir apparent in this entry
beneficiary heir
in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir who exercises the benefit of inventory which limits the amount of his or her liability for the decedent's debts
bodily heir
: heir of the body in this entry
forced heir
: an heir who cannot be disinherited except for causes recognized by law especially, in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir who because of youth or mental or physical infirmity cannot care for himself or herself and who cannot be deprived of his or her lawful portion of the decedent's estate by disinherison without just cause — see also legitime
heir ab intestato \ -​ˌab-​ˌin-​tes-​ˈtā-​tō, -​ˌäb-​ˌin-​tes-​ˈtä-​tō \ plural heirs ab intestato
in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir that takes only by operation of the laws governing intestate succession
heir apparent plural heirs apparent
: an heir whose right to an inheritance cannot be voided or undone except by exclusion under a valid will if he or she survives the ancestor

called also apparent heir

— compare heir presumptive in this entry
heir at law
heir general plural heirs general
heir in tail
: an heir to a fee-tail estate

called also heir of entail

heir of the body
: an heir who is a lineal descendant especially as contrasted with a collateral descendant

called also bodily heir

heir presumptive plural heirs presumptive
: an heir whose right to inherit may be defeated by the birth of a nearer relative or by exclusion under a valid will

called also presumptive heir

— compare heir apparent in this entry
instituted heir
in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir who is named in the will but whose legacy will fall to a substitute legatee under a vulgar substitution in the event that he or she refuses the legacy or dies before the testator

called also instituted legatee

irregular heir
in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir who inherits a right of action to the estate as distinguished from seisin

Note: This class of heirs was eliminated as of January 1, 1982. Formerly, a decedent's illegitimate children and spouse were considered irregular heirs.

legal heir
: heir sense a specifically, in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir who receives seisin immediately after the death of the intestate by operation of law — compare irregular heir in this entry

Note: Prior to 1982 the Louisiana Civil Code distinguished between legal and irregular heirs who were required to go through an additional procedure in order to receive possession of the property. This division of heirs was eliminated in the 1981 revision of the Civil Code.

natural heir
: an heir (as a child) whose status as an heir arises from especially close blood relationship as distinguished from one (as the state) whose status arises by operation of statute
presumptive heir
: heir presumptive in this entry
pretermitted heir
: a descendant of a testator who would be an heir under the laws of intestacy but who is not named to take under the will

Note: Most states have statutes requiring a share of the estate to go to a pretermitted heir, especially one born after the execution of the will, on the assumption that the omission was unintentional.

right heir
1 : an heir by blood
2 : the particular heir granted or devised an estate tail as distinguished from the heirs in general
testamentary heir
in the civil law of Louisiana : an heir who inherits under a will

Other Words from heir

heirless adjective
heirship noun

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