noblesse oblige


no·​blesse oblige nō-ˈbles-ə-ˈblēzh How to pronounce noblesse oblige (audio)
: the obligation of honorable, generous, and responsible behavior associated with high rank or birth

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Noblesse Oblige Has French Origins

In French, noblesse oblige means literally "nobility obligates." French speakers transformed the phrase into a noun, which English speakers picked up in the 19th century. Then, as now, noblesse oblige referred to the unwritten obligation of people from a noble ancestry to act honorably and generously to others. Later, by extension, it also came to refer to the obligation of anyone who is in a better position than others—due, for example, to high office or celebrity—to act respectably and responsibly.

Example Sentences

He was raised to have a strong sense of noblesse oblige.
Recent Examples on the Web Her new role obligated her to master a shifting vocabulary of noblesse oblige. Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, 16 Jan. 2023 Voting for a Bush meant voting for the establishment, for ethics and noblesse oblige. Dallas News, 28 May 2022 One feels in Chiang Mai the same sense of pride, of noblesse oblige, that one senses in other ancient cities with wealthy, royal pasts, like, say, Jaipur and Kyoto; this is a storied place. Hanya Yanagihara, Condé Nast Traveler, 10 Jan. 2022 It’s noblesse oblige — a thousand-watt sign of Hollywood approval, her sparkling, violet eyes and chirpy voice inspiring America’s moral and social advancement. Armond White, National Review, 14 Dec. 2022 Though Alger indeed extols the virtues of hard work, prayer, honesty and saving, his books also hinge upon chance encounters and the noblesse oblige of someone much higher on the class ladder. New York Times, 5 Apr. 2022 It’s as if their presence alone is meant to satisfy some sort of writerly noblesse oblige. Downton Abbey, with its water cooler twists, brought the TV period drama into the 21st century. Judy Berman, Time, 20 Jan. 2022 Everything is up to date in this museum of video screens and touch panels except its founding principle, which is the old noblesse oblige. Washington Post, 21 Oct. 2020 His Zorro dedicates himself to the equitable treatment of every citizen and rouses his fellow caballeros to practice a democratic form of noblesse oblige. Washington Post, 1 Jan. 2021 See More

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

Word History


French, literally, nobility obligates

First Known Use

1849, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of noblesse oblige was in 1849


Dictionary Entries Near noblesse oblige

Cite this Entry

“Noblesse oblige.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 31 Jan. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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