in·​ge·​nue ˈan-jə-ˌnü How to pronounce ingenue (audio)
variants or ingénue
: a naive girl or young woman
: the stage role of an ingenue
also : an actress playing such a role

Did you know?

Although Becky Sharp, the ambitious heroine of William Makepeace Thackeray's 1848 novel Vanity Fair, is not usually thought of as innocent or naive, the author used ingenue to describe her as having those qualities. Thackeray's use was attributive: "When attacked sometimes, Becky had a knack of adopting a demure ingenue air, under which she was most dangerous." The word ingenue typically refers to someone who is innocent to the ways of the world, so you probably won't be too surprised to learn that it shares an ancestor—Latin ingenuus—with ingenuous, a word meaning "showing innocent or childlike simplicity and candidness." More directly, our ingenue comes from French ingénue, the feminine form of ingénu, meaning "ingenuous."

Example Sentences

In her latest film she plays the part of an ingenue.
Recent Examples on the Web Grey Henson and Ashley D. Kelley as the gleeful Storytellers, Kevin Cahoon as a hayseed philosopher and Caroline Innerbichler as the requisite ingenue all joyfully indulge the cheeky, harmlessly off-color vibe. Peter Marks, Washington Post, 20 Apr. 2023 If Jenna Marbles was that internet moment’s prankster and Logan Paul its bad boy, Chamberlain had become its quirky and beloved ingenue. Alex Morris, Rolling Stone, 17 Apr. 2023 From Natalie Portman at the Star Wars: Episode II premiere to Rihanna at her inaugural Diamond Ball, Posen transforms ingenues into icons. Ian Malone, Vogue, 14 Mar. 2023 No longer the enigmatic ingenue, she’s graduated to mother roles, starring as a single parent of two teenagers in 1980s Paris. Gregg Kilday, The Hollywood Reporter, 11 Feb. 2022 Erin Morley supplied a leaner, but still penetrating, soprano for Sophie, aptly transforming from ingenue to feisty fighter. Scott Cantrell, Dallas News, 30 Mar. 2023 The glamorous costume arc of silent film ingenue turned talkie-era flameout Nellie LaRoy (Margot Robbie) offers a cautionary tale, like Damien Chazelle’s movie itself. Fawnia Soo Hoo, The Hollywood Reporter, 1 Mar. 2023 Eve Babitz was one of the truly original writers of 20th-century Los Angeles: essayist, memoirist, novelist, groupie, feminist, canny ingenue. Kevin Dettmar, The Atlantic, 10 Aug. 2022 Andrew Gorell as the overburdened Dr. Aster; Steve Marvel as the failing professor; Anne McEvoy as Babs, the wise mother figure; and Chennelle Bryant-Harris as Pickles, the ingenue far deeper than meets the eye. Zachary Lewis, cleveland, 25 Apr. 2022 See More

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

Word History


French ingénue, feminine of ingénu ingenuous, from Latin ingenuus

First Known Use

1839, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of ingenue was in 1839


Dictionary Entries Near ingenue

Cite this Entry

“Ingenue.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 May. 2023.

Kids Definition


variants or ingénue
: an innocent girl or young woman or an actress playing such a person

More from Merriam-Webster on ingenue

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