in·​di·​gence ˈin-di-jən(t)s How to pronounce indigence (audio)
: a level of poverty in which real hardship and deprivation are suffered and comforts of life are wholly lacking

Did you know?

Is your vocabulary impoverished by a lack of synonyms for indigence? We can help. Poverty, penury, want, and destitution all describe the state of someone who is lacking in key resources. Poverty covers the range from severe lack of basic necessities to an absence of material comforts ("the refugees lived in extreme poverty"). Penury suggests a cramping or oppressive lack of money ("illness condemned him to years of penury"). Want and destitution imply extreme, even life-threatening, poverty ("lived in a perpetual state of want"; "the widespread destitution in countries beset by famine"). Indigence, which descends from a Latin verb meaning "to need," implies seriously straitened circumstances and usually connotes the endurance of many hardships and the lack of comforts.

Choose the Right Synonym for indigence

poverty, indigence, penury, want, destitution mean the state of one with insufficient resources.

poverty may cover a range from extreme want of necessities to an absence of material comforts.

the extreme poverty of the slum dwellers

indigence implies seriously straitened circumstances.

the indigence of her years as a graduate student

penury suggests a cramping or oppressive lack of money.

a catastrophic illness that condemned them to years of penury

want and destitution imply extreme poverty that threatens life itself through starvation or exposure.

lived in a perpetual state of want
the widespread destitution in countries beset by famine

Examples of indigence in a Sentence

there are various state and federal programs to help relieve indigence
Recent Examples on the Web The Misses Arkell had been prepared, as the Professor put it, to minister to his spiritual indigence; but while there was much to be done in the way of instruction, they were reluctantly obliged to admit that exhortation and admonition were superfluous. Edith Wharton, The Atlantic, 9 Nov. 2020 Splendor and indigence are equally familiar to him; prudence and shame are equally alien. Judith Thurman, The New Yorker, 20 June 2022 Black and Hispanic Americans escaped indigence in record numbers. Washington Post, 18 Mar. 2022 His children, three former child prodigies, are to blame for his financial indigence. CNN, 13 Dec. 2021 William Booth’s famous poverty maps, which the social reformer used to catalogue affluence and indigence in late Victorian London, don’t extend this far south. Washington Post, 12 Feb. 2021 Under Harris County’s rigid and misguided risk-assessment system, indicators of indigence received the same point values as a history of criminal violations or prior failures to appear in court. Gilbert Garcia,, 12 Feb. 2020 Amazing that a handful of ’em haven’t been assessed five-minute majors for loitering or indigence., 21 Oct. 2019 If the prototypical American was white and middle class, and my parents’ Chinese accents and indigence marked them as irredeemably fresh off the boat, what chance was there for someone like me to achieve Americanness? Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, 16 Sep. 2019 See More

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

Word History

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of indigence was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near indigence

Cite this Entry

“Indigence.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


in·​di·​gence ˈin-di-jən(t)s How to pronounce indigence (audio)

Legal Definition


in·​di·​gence ˈin-də-jəns How to pronounce indigence (audio)
: impoverished hardship and deprivation

More from Merriam-Webster on indigence

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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