or·​phan | \ ˈȯr-fən How to pronounce orphan (audio) \

Definition of orphan

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents He became an orphan when his parents died in a car accident.
2 : a young animal that has lost its mother feeding calves that are orphans
3 : one deprived of some protection or advantage orphans of the storm refugee orphans of the war
4 : a first line (as of a paragraph) separated from its related text and appearing at the bottom of a printed page or column


orphaned; orphaning\ ˈȯr-​fə-​niŋ How to pronounce orphan (audio) , ˈȯrf-​niŋ \

Definition of orphan (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to cause to become an orphan

Other Words from orphan


orphan adjective
orphanhood \ ˈȯr-​fən-​ˌhu̇d How to pronounce orphan (audio) \ noun

Examples of orphan in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun He was transferred years later to an orphanage, which registered him as an orphan, soon after his family registered him as dead following years of futile searches. BostonGlobe.com, 24 Aug. 2022 Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said Monday that the child is now believed to be an orphan. Mike Mavredakis, Hartford Courant, 22 June 2022 Several other families remained at Cajamarca with a follower named Víctor Chico, who had joined Segundo as a 10-year-old orphan. Dominic Green, WSJ, 12 Aug. 2022 That those pressures are uneven—a scion with a trust fund gets more tries at making it in a risky but rewarding venture than an orphan with monthly rent to cover—is one way inequalities compound. Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, 25 July 2022 The series follows Iyanu, a teenage orphan who spends her days studying Yoruba history and ancient arts but yearns for a normal life. Selome Hailu, Variety, 11 July 2022 This is followed by a clunky bit of exposition introducing Maisie (voiced by Zaris-Angel Hator), a young orphan who idolizes hunters, endlessly reads about them, and can’t wait to become one. Michael Ordoña, Los Angeles Times, 7 July 2022 The family added a 13-year-old girl, Mimi from Scotland, as their ward, and in 1955 adopted Lu-Ai Lee, a three-year-old orphan from the Korean War. Jeff Suess, The Enquirer, 19 June 2022 Indisputably one of the most esteemed automotive names in history, Bugatti became a bit of an orphan after its founder passed. Robert Ross, Robb Report, 18 July 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb These deaths orphan hundreds of thousands of children and, along with the serious illnesses, destroy an entire generation of older Americans, rip apart family structure and wreak havoc on the economy. Thoai D. Ngo, Scientific American, 15 June 2022 The event takes place at 9 a.m. Thursday in the center’s outdoor pavilion at 6461 El Apajo Road, and will virtually unite animal advocates to help orphan pets and #SeeTheLight about pet adoption. Linda Mcintosh, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Sep. 2021 The shelter, which currently has two full-time employees in addition to Mrs. Langen, one part-timer and some volunteers, is also home to orphan black bears, moose and deer. New York Times, 23 July 2021 The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that orphan and abandoned wells emit roughly 280,000 metric tons of methane each year, which is about as much pollution created by 2.1 million passenger vehicles annually. Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, 5 Apr. 2021 Aracely was convinced the virus would kill her and orphan her children. Evan Allen And Beth Teitell, BostonGlobe.com, 12 Mar. 2021 Parents of deer and rabbits typically interact with their young at dawn and dusk, which can leave the impression that the young are orphaned. cleveland, 3 June 2020 Galdikas continues to observe and care for the Borneo orangutans, many orphaned because of logging and poaching. Los Angeles Times, 22 Apr. 2020 Set in the early 19th century, Michael Crummey’s fifth novel is a brilliant, harrowing, and supremely moving tale of Evered and Ada, orphaned at ages 11 and 9 on an isolated cove in Newfoundland. Katherine A. Powers, Washington Post, 21 Jan. 2020 See More

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

First Known Use of orphan


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1814, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for orphan


Middle English orphan, orphen, borrowed from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French orphayn, borrowed from Late Latin orphanus, borrowed from Greek orphanós "left without parents, child without parents," derivative (with -anos, noun and adjective suffix) of *orphos "orphan," going back to Indo-European *h3órbhos "person or property turned over (as after a death)," whence also Armenian orb "orphan," Latin orbus "deprived by death of a relative, bereaved, orphan," Old Church Slavic rabŭ "slave," also (from post-Indo-European *orbhós "one having the inheritance, heir," whence *orbhii̯o- "of the heir") Old Irish orpe, orbae "patrimony, heritage," Old English ierfe "inheritance," Old Saxon erƀi, Old High German erbi, Gothic arbi, and (from Germanic *arbijōn- "heir") Old English ierfa "heir," Old High German erbo, Gothic arbja, runic Norse arbija; Indo-European *h3órbhos perhaps derivative of a verbal base *h3erbh- "turn, be turned over, undergo transfer" — more at orb entry 1


derivative of orphan entry 1

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Time Traveler for orphan

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The first known use of orphan was in the 15th century

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Dictionary Entries Near orphan



orphan's court

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Last Updated

21 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Orphan.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orphan. Accessed 26 Sep. 2022.

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More Definitions for orphan


or·​phan | \ ˈȯr-fən How to pronounce orphan (audio) \

Kids Definition of orphan

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a child whose parents are dead


orphaned; orphaning

Kids Definition of orphan (Entry 2 of 2)

: to cause to have no parents : cause to become an orphan She was orphaned as a baby.



Legal Definition of orphan

: a child deprived by death of one or usually both parents broadly : a child without a parent or guardian

More from Merriam-Webster on orphan

Nglish: Translation of orphan for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of orphan for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about orphan


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