\ ˈnän(t)s How to pronounce nonce (audio) \

Definition of nonce

 (Entry 1 of 2)

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



Definition of nonce (Entry 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."

First Known Use of nonce


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1884, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for nonce


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

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

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Cite this Entry

“Nonce.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 11 December 2019.

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English Language Learners Definition of nonce

: used or made only once or for a special occasion

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Spanish Central: Translation of nonce

Comments on nonce

What made you want to look up nonce? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


heavy with or as if with moisture

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