1 of 2


: the one, particular, or present occasion, purpose, or use
for the nonce
: the time being


2 of 2


: occurring, used, or made only once or for a special occasion
a nonce word

Did you know?

Nonce first appeared in Middle English as a noun spelled "nanes." The spelling likely came about from a misdivision of the phrase "then anes." ("Then" was the Middle English equivalent of "the" and anes meant "one purpose.") The word was especially used in the phrase for the nonce, meaning "for the one purpose," as in Geoffrey Chaucer's "Prologue" of Canterbury Tales: "A cook they hadde with hem for the nones To boille the chiknes with the marybones." The adjective "nonce" did not exist in print until the publication in 1884 of the New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (which later became the Oxford English Dictionary). The editor of that dictionary, James Murray, created the term "nonce-word" as a label for "words apparently employed for the nonce."

Word History



Middle English nanes, alteration (from misdivision of then anes in such phrases as to then anes for the one purpose) of anes one purpose, irregular from an, on one — more at one

First Known Use


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1884, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of nonce was in the 13th century


Dictionary Entries Near nonce

Cite this Entry

“Nonce.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


: the one, particular, or present occasion, purpose, or use
for the nonce

More from Merriam-Webster on nonce

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