os·​ten·​si·​ble ä-ˈsten(t)-sə-bəl How to pronounce ostensible (audio)
: intended for display : open to view
: being such in appearance : plausible rather than demonstrably true or real
the ostensible purpose for the trip

Did you know?

Ostensible comes from Latin ostendere, meaning "to show," and the word suggests a discrepancy between a declared or implied aim or reason and the true one.

Choose the Right Synonym for ostensible

apparent, illusory, seeming, ostensible mean not actually being what appearance indicates.

apparent suggests appearance to unaided senses that may or may not be borne out by more rigorous examination or greater knowledge.

the apparent cause of the accident

illusory implies a false impression based on deceptive resemblance or faulty observation, or influenced by emotions that prevent a clear view.

an illusory sense of security

seeming implies a character in the thing observed that gives it the appearance, sometimes through intent, of something else.

the seeming simplicity of the story

ostensible suggests a discrepancy between an openly declared or naturally implied aim or reason and the true one.

the ostensible reason for their visit

Examples of ostensible in a Sentence

That intelligence and those facts, of course, all pertained to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, the war's ostensible casus belli, which we now know did not exist. Frank Rich, New York Review, 6 Apr. 2006
To listen again to "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do"—probably the most relentlessly cheerful song ever written on the ostensible theme of misery—is at once to admire its delicately judged textures and Swiss-watch precision … Geoffrey O'Brien, New York Review of Books, 15 Dec. 2005
Its ostensible subject is America's murderous gun culture. Its real subject, of course, is the ravenous ego of its director-star, Michael Moore. Scott Berg, Time, 14 July 2003
It's a snarky, glory-thieving place, the world of big-bucks political fund raising. Ostensible grownups can be reduced to screaming toddlers over who gets the credit for bringing in a major donor's gift … Viveca Novak, Time, 14 June 1999
the ostensible reason for the meeting turned out to be a trick to get him to the surprise party
Recent Examples on the Web The website contains pre-save links for both Apple Music and Spotify, and one last tease: An ostensible release date, though the days and months keep changing in rapid succession. Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, 21 Feb. 2024 So much of the ostensible plot of the series is broad and so much of the execution is quite droll. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 15 Feb. 2024 While Trump faces an ostensible primary challenge from former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, he’s won every nominating contest so far and is far ahead of Haley in the race for delegates, who will choose the nominee at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, Wis. this summer. Max Greenwood, Miami Herald, 10 Feb. 2024 The ostensible purpose of the bill, according to Nguyen, is consumer protection and transparency. TIME, 6 Feb. 2024 During recent escalations of violence involving the hard-line Palestinian faction Islamic Jihad, Hamas fighters conspicuously stood aside as Israeli forces wiped out the military commanders of its ostensible ally. Adam Rasgon, The New Yorker, 13 Oct. 2023 Even those that did not urge the country’s destruction clearly backed Palestinian or Hamas narratives, an ostensible violation of Voice of America’s standards guidance. Jimmy Quinn, National Review, 12 Jan. 2024 Angourie Rice plays our ostensible heroine Cady Heron as more of an earnest naif. Katie Walsh, Twin Cities, 11 Jan. 2024 And all of the films involve docu-fiction and autofiction—the ubiquitous intertwining of ostensible fiction with real life, especially the real lives of authors and anyone in their orbit. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 3 Jan. 2024 See More

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

Word History


French, from Latin ostensus, past participle of ostendere to show, from obs-, ob- in the way + tendere to stretch — more at ob-, thin

First Known Use

circa 1771, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of ostensible was circa 1771


Dictionary Entries Near ostensible

Cite this Entry

“Ostensible.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ostensible. Accessed 4 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


os·​ten·​si·​ble ä-ˈsten(t)-sə-bəl How to pronounce ostensible (audio)
: shown outwardly : apparent
the ostensible purpose of his visit

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