1 of 2


mer·​ce·​nary ˈmər-sə-ˌner-ē How to pronounce mercenary (audio)
plural mercenaries
: one that serves merely for wages
especially : a soldier hired into foreign service
mercenaries who guaranteed the success of the rebellion B. F. Reilly


2 of 2


: serving merely for pay or sordid advantage : venal
also : greedy
: hired for service in the army of a foreign country
mercenarily adverb
mercenariness noun

Examples of mercenary in a Sentence

Noun an army of foreign mercenaries Adjective His motives in choosing a career were purely mercenary. they were a mercenary couple, who defined themselves not by what they were but by what they owned
Recent Examples on the Web
Such weapons have been used recently to target Russia’s Wagner mercenaries in Sudan. Alex Horton, Washington Post, 17 Oct. 2023 In Mali and the Central African Republic, French troops have been replaced with Wagner mercenaries. Elizabeth Dwoskin, Washington Post, 21 Oct. 2023 Putin’s mercenary Yevgeny Prigozhin had launched a mutiny. Susan B. Glasser, The New Yorker, 9 Oct. 2023 As Russia has made inroads in some West and Central African countries, its flag has been the most visible sign of a broader geopolitical shift in the region, along with Russian weapons and mercenaries. Elian Peltier, New York Times, 1 Oct. 2023 The mercenaries were offered a choice to retire from the service, move to Belarus or sign new contracts with the Defense Ministry. Yuras Karmanau The Associated Press, Arkansas Online, 30 Sep. 2023 Western policymakers and pundits are still sifting through the details of Prigozhin’s odyssey from mercenary to mutineer to apparent murder victim, looking for the clues that would crack the mystery of the Kremlin’s behavior during the Ukraine war and help guide the West’s responses. Sam Greene, Foreign Affairs, 22 Sep. 2023 The elite mercenaries known as the Expendables are back for another round of action, performed with maximum exertion and minimal character arcs. Richard Newby, Vulture, 22 Sep. 2023 For much of the conflict, the official Russian army has been bolstered by mercenaries contracted to Wagner. Christian Edwards, CNN, 5 Sep. 2023
As things stand now, a genocidal militia group backed by Russia’s Wagner (mercenary) group is on the march to defeat Sudan’s army. Paul Tilsley, Fox News, 26 Nov. 2023 The death of the mercenary group’s leader has created a window of opportunity in the Central African Republic for Western powers to offer an alternative. Elian Peltier Jim Huylebroek, New York Times, 26 Nov. 2023 The lack of respect for the dead surprised even a soldier with the Wagner Group, Russia’s mercenary legion of former convicts that fought some of the bloodiest battles in the invasion of Ukraine. Anna Nemtsova, The Atlantic, 24 Nov. 2023 The company scored big contracts with foreign governments and with the private mercenary group Blackwater. James Bandler, ProPublica, 21 Nov. 2023 As part of a bitter feud with Prigozhin, the Defense Ministry eventually barred Wagner from prison recruitment as military officials worked to limit the mercenary leader’s involvement in the war following his public rants accusing the country’s top brass of botching the invasion. Mary Ilyushina, Washington Post, 26 Oct. 2023 After the aborted mutiny in late June, speculation has been rife about the future of the mercenary group that provided one of the most capable elements of Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. Yuras Karmanau The Associated Press, Arkansas Online, 30 Sep. 2023 Under the junta, Mali has turned its back on relationships with previous Western partners and embraced Russian mercenary group Wagner, which deployed fighters to the country following the 2021 coup. Teele Rebane, CNN, 8 Sep. 2023 The Journal reported Thursday that the U.S. has intelligence that Russia’s Wagner mercenary group is planning to send air defenses to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 2 Nov. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Noun and Adjective

Middle English, from Latin mercenarius, irregular from merced-, merces wages — more at mercy

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined above


1532, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near mercenary

Cite this Entry

“Mercenary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
mer·​ce·​nary ˈmərs-ᵊn-ˌer-ē How to pronounce mercenary (audio)
plural mercenaries
: one that serves only for wages
especially : a soldier hired by a foreign country to fight in its army


2 of 2 adjective
: serving only for the pay or reward
mercenary armies
mercenary soldier
: greedy for money
mercenary business owners

More from Merriam-Webster on mercenary

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