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leav·​en ˈle-vən How to pronounce leaven (audio)
: a substance (such as yeast) used to produce fermentation in dough or a liquid
especially : sourdough
: a material (such as baking powder) used to produce a gas that lightens dough or batter
: something that modifies or lightens


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leavened; leavening ˈle-və-niŋ How to pronounce leaven (audio)

transitive verb

: to raise (something, such as bread) with a leaven
: to mingle or permeate with some modifying, alleviating, or vivifying element
especially : lighten
a sermon leavened with humor
Choose the Right Synonym for leaven

infuse, suffuse, imbue, ingrain, inoculate, leaven mean to introduce one thing into another so as to affect it throughout.

infuse implies a pouring in of something that gives new life or significance.

new members infused enthusiasm into the club

suffuse implies a spreading through of something that gives an unusual color or quality.

a room suffused with light

imbue implies the introduction of a quality that fills and permeates the whole being.

imbue students with intellectual curiosity

ingrain, used only in the passive or past participle, suggests the deep implanting of a quality or trait.

clung to ingrained habits

inoculate implies an imbuing or implanting with a germinal idea and often suggests stealth or subtlety.

an electorate inoculated with dangerous ideas

leaven implies introducing something that enlivens, tempers, or markedly alters the total quality.

a serious play leavened with comic moments

Examples of leaven in a Sentence

Noun a serious book that includes a few humorous stories as leaven Verb He needs to leaven his speeches with more humor. using yeast to leaven the dough
Recent Examples on the Web
Today, 3,000 years later, those who practice Passover attend a meal ritual known as Seder in homes, avoiding leaven, and retell that Exodus story. Irene Richardson, Country Living, 12 Mar. 2023
During Passover, which ended last week, Jewish communities avoided chametz (leavened goods like wheat and spelt) and instead consumed matzo. Ahmed Ali Akbar, Chicago Tribune, 5 May 2024 Matzo is a Passover staple because Jewish tradition means not eating leavened bread or bread products during the week-long holiday currently taking place. Sabrina Weiss, Peoplemag, 26 Apr. 2024 Inside, the reward: A six-foot counter piled high with a unique mix of French-style and Venezuelan baked goods, from naturally leavened sourdough to cultural classics such as pan canilla and campesino, similar to French baguettes, cachitos, pan dulces and pasteles. Carlos Frías, Miami Herald, 30 Jan. 2024 The dietary restrictions required for Passover — including avoiding leavened bread and certain baked goods — mean extra thought has to go into menu planning. Becky Krystal, Washington Post, 17 Apr. 2024 In the series, a little playful dialogue goes a long way toward leavening all the Physics 101. James Poniewozik, New York Times, 20 Mar. 2024 Leavening: Traditionally, soda bread is leavened with just baking soda, hence its name. Jessie Sheehan, Washington Post, 15 Mar. 2024 Although Conners isn’t shy about tucking exposition into conversations no matter how awkward the fit — and leavened somewhat by the fine ensemble on hand, the film’s grand design is more subtle. Stephen Saito, Variety, 12 Mar. 2024 The fiery performance, leavened by some humor at the close, aimed to rebut one of the main lines of Republican attack on Biden — the effort to portray the 81-year-old president as doddering and weak. David Lauter, Los Angeles Times, 8 Mar. 2024

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

Word History



Middle English levain, from Anglo-French levein, from Vulgar Latin *levamen, from Latin levare to raise — more at lever

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near leaven

Cite this Entry

“Leaven.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/leaven. Accessed 20 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
leav·​en ˈlev-ən How to pronounce leaven (audio)
: a substance (as yeast) used to produce a gaseous fermentation (as in dough)
: a material (as baking powder) used to produce a gas that makes dough or batter rise and become light
: something that changes slightly or lightens a mass or whole


2 of 2 verb
leavened; leavening ˈlev-(ə-)niŋ How to pronounce leaven (audio)
: to raise (dough) with a leaven
: to mix or spread throughout with leaven

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