mi·​lieu mēl-ˈyü How to pronounce milieu (audio) -ˈyər How to pronounce milieu (audio)
plural milieus or milieux mēl-ˈyüz How to pronounce milieu (audio) -ˈyə(r)(z) How to pronounce milieu (audio)
: the physical or social setting in which something occurs or develops : environment

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Milieu Entered English in the 1800s

Milieu comes from Old French mi (meaning "middle") and lieu ("place"). The word refers to an environment or setting. In English, lieu also is used to mean "place" and most often occurs in the phrase "in lieu of," as in "Cash is preferred but in lieu of cash a credit card is acceptable."

Choose the Right Synonym for milieu

background, setting, environment, milieu, mise-en-scène mean the place, time, and circumstances in which something occurs.

background often refers to the circumstances or events that precede a phenomenon or development.

the shocking decision was part of the background of the riots

setting suggests looking at real-life situations in literary or dramatic terms.

a militant reformer who was born into an unlikely social setting

environment applies to all the external factors that have a formative influence on one's physical, mental, or moral development.

the kind of environment that produces juvenile delinquents

milieu applies especially to the physical and social surroundings of a person or group of persons.

an intellectual milieu conducive to artistic experimentation

mise-en-scène strongly suggests the use of properties to achieve a particular atmosphere or theatrical effect.

a gothic thriller with a carefully crafted mise-en-scène

Examples of milieu in a Sentence

Theirs was a bohemian milieu in which people often played romantic musical chairs. Edmund White, New York Review of Books, 12 Feb. 2009
People in France admire the United States, and much of what passes for anti-Americanism is limited to the intellectual milieu of Paris. Jonathan Alter et al., Newsweek, 29 May 2000
She might stay home, might marry and live as a housewife. And if her milieu does not sanction such a solution, there are, she knows, milieux which do. David Mamet, Jafsie and John Henry: Essays, 1999
Certainly there are very few American milieus today in which having read the latest work of Joyce Carol Oates or Richard Ford is more valuable, as social currency, than having caught the latest John Travolta movie or knowing how to navigate the Web. Jonathan Franzen, Harper's, April 1996
They're caught in their own hazy milieu—working, smoking, talking, drinking. Gerri Hirshey, Rolling Stone, 12 Nov. 1992
young, innovative artists thrive in the freewheeling milieu that a big city offers See More
Recent Examples on the Web The plot is another variation on his run of serious ruminations on ethics like Crime and Misdemeanors (1989) or Match Point, light on jokes but with the same moneyed milieu as the comedies. Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter, 4 Sep. 2023 Where many agree, however, is that a superintendent’s survival these days in a community such as Marblehead hinges as much on the social and political milieu of the districtas on competence and leadership skills. Deanna Pan,, 26 Aug. 2023 Lerer thinks that, without a high-profile job, Zaslav’s natural milieu would be a back-yard barbecue. Clare Malone, The New Yorker, 23 Aug. 2023 The royal wedding cake scene, for instance, involves a milieu of high-society extras milling around and interacting with the film’s royal family. Laura Zornosa, Time, 11 Aug. 2023 And while the specific milieu of the Met exhibition is India, its curator, John Guy, who also oversaw the superlative catalog, is careful to avoid the impression that early south Indian Buddhism and culture were landlocked phenomena. Holland Cotter, New York Times, 21 July 2023 Mackie’s analysis goes to some lengths to emphasize the political and social milieu of the city and the already apparent shakiness of the Hapsburg Empire. Terry W. Hartle, The Christian Science Monitor, 22 June 2023 Plus, Daryl gets a new favorite weapon, one that fits the milieu. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 8 Sep. 2023 The thing about Philo is that—like so many other giants who suddenly disappeared from their milieu—a larger cult formed around her in absentia. Laia Garcia-Furtado, Vogue, 5 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'milieu.' 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, from Old French, midst, from mi middle (from Latin medius) + lieu place, from Latin locus — more at mid, stall

First Known Use

1854, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of milieu was in 1854


Dictionary Entries Near milieu

Cite this Entry

“Milieu.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


mi·​lieu mēl-ˈyə(r) How to pronounce milieu (audio) -ˈyü How to pronounce milieu (audio)

Medical Definition


mi·​lieu mēl-ˈyə(r) How to pronounce milieu (audio) -ˈyü; ˈmēl-ˌyü How to pronounce milieu (audio)

More from Merriam-Webster on milieu

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