ne·​ces·​si·​ty | \ ni-ˈse-sə-tē How to pronounce necessity (audio) , -ˈse-stē \
plural necessities

Definition of necessity

1 : the quality or state of being necessary He questioned the necessity for the change.
2a : pressure of circumstance The plane was compelled by necessity to change its course.
b : physical or moral compulsion did it, not because he wanted to, but by necessity
c : impossibility of a contrary order or condition submitting to the necessity imposed by the physical laws of the universe
3 : the quality or state of being in need especially : poverty had come to help them in their necessity
4a : something that is necessary : requirement Many families could not afford the bare necessities of life.
b : an urgent need or desire When his father collapsed, an ambulance became a necessity.
of necessity
: in such a way that it cannot be otherwise also : as a necessary consequence further changes will occur of necessity

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Examples of necessity in a Sentence

Sunscreen is an absolute necessity for the beach. food, clothes, and other basic necessities Getting plenty of rest is a necessity. Without a car, living close to work is a necessity. All we took with us on our hiking trip were the bare necessities.
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Recent Examples on the Web Still, there were those who lived in vehicles out of desperate necessity. Chris Moody, The New Republic, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Living Nowhere," 30 Mar. 2021 This brand of press criticism takes a free and independent press as a necessity for life in a democratic society. Kevin M. Lerner, The Conversation, "After prolonged period of press-bashing, a more constructive form of media criticism is now flourishing," 29 Mar. 2021 That indicates Biden will likely touch on voting rights, an issue Democrats have coalesced around as both a moral imperative and political necessity for any future progressive governing coalition. Matthew Brown, USA TODAY, "White House 'Help is Here' stimulus tour puts heavy focus on battleground states," 19 Mar. 2021 Electoral reform to allow multiparty democracy is an urgent necessity. Time, "American Democracy Can't Survive Unless the Far Right Is Marginalized. Here's How to Do It," 19 Mar. 2021 Meanwhile, Cuomo’s allies and top aides describe his hard-nosed approach to politics as a necessity to succeed in New York’s tough political landscape. Thomas Barrabi, Fox News, "Dem who accused Cuomo of threat to ‘destroy’ him is latest to say governor bullied them," 19 Feb. 2021 Back in the spring, when the nation faced a sudden catastrophe, the eviction freeze made sense as a temporary necessity. Steve Chapman Chicago Tribune, Star Tribune, "The federal eviction moratorium is flawed," 25 Jan. 2021 Or even the simple idea that water, as a universal necessity for human life, should be venerated as precious and managed for the common good, instead of reduced to a ticker symbol that produces fees for the banking elite. David Z. Morris, Fortune, "Money should flow like water … but should water be like money?," 9 Dec. 2020 Board members did not seriously dispute the decision Tuesday during a virtual meeting, although some lamented it as an unfortunate necessity. Hannah Natanson, Washington Post, "Fairfax school board questions superintendent over decision to delay in-person learning," 17 Nov. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'necessity.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of necessity

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for necessity

Middle English necessite, from Anglo-French necessité, from Latin necessitat-, necessitas, from necesse

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Time Traveler for necessity

Time Traveler

The first known use of necessity was in the 14th century

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Statistics for necessity

Last Updated

2 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Necessity.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for necessity



English Language Learners Definition of necessity

: something that you must have or do : something that is necessary
formal : the quality of being necessary


ne·​ces·​si·​ty | \ ni-ˈse-sə-tē How to pronounce necessity (audio) \
plural necessities

Kids Definition of necessity

1 : the state of things that forces certain actions The necessity of eating forced her to work.
2 : very great need Call us for help in case of necessity.
3 : the state of being in need : poverty I am forced by necessity to beg.
4 : something that is badly needed He bought a few necessities before his trip.


plural necessities

Legal Definition of necessity

1a : the presence or pressure of circumstances that justify or compel a certain course of action especially : a need to respond or react to a dangerous situation by committing a criminal act
b : an affirmative defense originating in common law that the defendant had to commit a criminal act because of the pressure of a situation that threatened a harm greater than that resulting from the act — see also choice of evils defense at defense sense 2a — compare duress, undue influence
2 : something that is necessary especially to subsistence obligated to provide the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter

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