os·​ten·​si·​ble | \ ä-ˈsten(t)-sə-bəl How to pronounce ostensible (audio) , ə- \

Definition of ostensible

1 : intended for display : open to view
2 : being such in appearance : plausible rather than demonstrably true or real the ostensible purpose for the trip

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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

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Like its synonyms "apparent" and "seeming," "ostensible" implies a discrepancy between what appears to be and what actually is. "Apparent" suggests appearance to unaided senses that may not be borne out by more rigorous examination ("the apparent cause of the accident"). "Seeming" implies a character in the thing being observed that gives it the appearance of something else ("the seeming simplicity of the story"). "Ostensible," which descends from the Latin word ostendere ("to show"), suggests a discrepancy between a declared or implied aim or reason and the true one.

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
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Recent Examples on the Web During last week’s Democratic debate, the candidates proffered plans to fund pre-schools and day-care services with federal dollars, the ostensible aim of which was to allow parents to remain in the workforce after having kids. John Hirschauer, National Review, "The Democrats’ Child-Care Chicanery," 20 Jan. 2020 Though the Lib Dems did increase their share of the overall vote (slightly), doing so largely served to knock out their ostensible Remainer Labour allies in close races. David Graeber, The New York Review of Books, "The Center Blows Itself Up: Care and Spite in the ‘Brexit Election’," 13 Jan. 2020 But to have a work of ostensible horror that keeps undermining the ideas and conventions of the genre feels like an odd kind of compromise. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, "The Supernatural Gets Serious in The Outsider," 12 Jan. 2020 The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday announced a ban on flavored e-cigarettes in an ostensible effort to thread the needle between preventing youth nicotine addiction and promoting adult tobacco cessation. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Thank You for Not Vaping," 2 Jan. 2020 Others were critical of the show’s ostensible erasure of transgender characters, especially trans women. NBC News, "From 'L Word' fan to family: Jacqueline Toboni on starring in the lesbian reboot," 26 Dec. 2019 The ostensible hero of the franchise is now a woman. The Economist, "A disturbance in the force Will “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” rebalance Disney’s universe?," 16 Dec. 2019 The aside had little to do with the ostensible purpose of the event: criminal justice reform. New York Times, "As Campaign Season Heats Up, Trump Has Turned the Official Into the Political," 8 Nov. 2019 The team had traded away ostensible successor Jimmy Garoppolo earlier that season. BostonGlobe.com, "Balance of Patriots power shifts back to Bill Belichick, not Tom Brady - The Boston Globe," 27 Nov. 2019

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

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First Known Use of ostensible

circa 1771, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for ostensible

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

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Time Traveler for ostensible

Time Traveler

The first known use of ostensible was circa 1771

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Last Updated

25 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Ostensible.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ostensible. Accessed 19 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for ostensible


How to pronounce ostensible (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of ostensible

: seeming or said to be true or real but very possibly not true or real


os·​ten·​si·​ble | \ ä-ˈsten-sə-bəl How to pronounce ostensible (audio) \

Kids Definition of ostensible

: seeming to be true : apparent The ostensible reason for the call was to chat, but then he asked for money.

Other Words from ostensible

ostensibly \ -​blē \ adverb

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