nu·​ga·​to·​ry ˈnü-gə-ˌtȯr-ē How to pronounce nugatory (audio)
: of little or no consequence : trifling, inconsequential
comments too nugatory to merit attention
: having no force : inoperative
The law was unenforced and thus rendered nugatory.

Did you know?

Just because nugatory isn’t the most common word in the English language doesn’t mean it’s trifling. Rather, nugatory is literally trifling because the two words are synonymous, as in “comments too nugatory to merit attention.” Nugatory first appeared in English in the 17th century; it comes from the Latin adjective nugatorius, which can mean not only “trifling” or “frivolous” but also "futile.” This sense carried over into English as well, and so in some contexts nugatory means “ineffective” or “having no force,” as when Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson invoked “the nugatory value of the contemporary penny.” Nugatory may mean little to some, but we think it’s worth a pretty penny.

Choose the Right Synonym for nugatory

vain, nugatory, otiose, idle, empty, hollow mean being without worth or significance.

vain implies either absolute or relative absence of value.

vain promises

nugatory suggests triviality or insignificance.

a monarch with nugatory powers

otiose suggests that something serves no purpose and is either an encumbrance or a superfluity.

a film without a single otiose scene

idle suggests being incapable of worthwhile use or effect.

idle speculations

empty and hollow suggest a deceiving lack of real substance or soundness or genuineness.

an empty attempt at reconciliation
a hollow victory

Examples of nugatory in a Sentence

the congressional resolution has symbolic value only, as it relates to a matter governed by the states and is thus nugatory the book is entertaining, but its contributions to Shakespearean scholarship are nugatory
Recent Examples on the Web Women directors abound in the S&S list: Two Akermans, two Agnès Vardas (none by her husband Jacques Demy, a superior artist), a nugatory Jane Campion soap opera, Vera Chitilová’s obscure Czech feminist screed, etc. Armond White, National Review, 7 Dec. 2022 But the benefits to Russia longer term could be nugatory. W. James Antle Iii, The Week, 4 Mar. 2022 It could be used to rationalize stealing the pennies from a dead man’s eyes, true, even considering the nugatory value of the contemporary penny. Marilynne Robinson, The New York Review of Books, 27 May 2020 Yet all of these questions seem, increasingly, merely nostalgic, nugatory, in the face of the dissolution of the common solidarity of principles that had once made the liberation happen. Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 6 June 2019

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'nugatory.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin nugatorius, from nugari to trifle, from nugae trifles

First Known Use

1603, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of nugatory was in 1603


Dictionary Entries Near nugatory

Cite this Entry

“Nugatory.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

Legal Definition


nu·​ga·​to·​ry ˈnü-gə-ˌtōr-ē, ˈnyü- How to pronounce nugatory (audio)
: being without operative legal effect
held that such an interpretation would render the statute nugatory

Latin nugatorius, from nugari to trifle, from nugae trifles

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