noun pa·tri·arch \ ˈpā-trē-ˌärk \
|Updated on: 13 Aug 2018

Definition of patriarch

1 a : one of the scriptural fathers of the human race or of the Hebrew people
  • Abraham was a patriarch of the Israelites.
b : a man who is father or founder
  • The newspaper patriarch celebrated his 90th birthday.
c (1) : the oldest member or representative of a group
  • the cypress … is the patriarch of native trees, going back to the time of the dinosaur
  • Amer. Guide Series: Texas
(2) : a venerable old man
  • a whiskered patriarch, spry for his age
  • —Frank Sullivan
d : a man who is head of a patriarchy
2 a : any of the bishops of the ancient or Eastern Orthodox sees of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem or the ancient and Western see of Rome with authority over other bishops
b : the head of any of various Eastern churches
c : a Roman Catholic bishop next in rank to the pope with purely titular or with metropolitan (see 2metropolitan 1) jurisdiction
3 : a Mormon of the Melchizedek priesthood empowered to perform the ordinances of the church and pronounce blessings within a stake or prescribed jurisdiction

Examples of patriarch in a Sentence

  1. Our grandfather was the family's patriarch.

  2. The tribe's patriarch ruled for 20 years before his death.

Recent Examples of patriarch from the Web

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

Origin and Etymology of patriarch

Middle English patriarche, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin patriarcha, from Greek patriarchēs, from patria lineage (from patr-, patēr father) + -archēs -arch — more at father

Other Anthropology Terms

PATRIARCH Defined for Kids


noun pa·tri·arch \ ˈpā-trē-ˌärk \

Definition of patriarch for Students

1 : a man who heads a family, group, or government
2 : a respected old man

Word Root of patriarch

The Latin word pater, meaning “father,” and the Greek word patēr give us the root pater or patr. Anyone or anything paternal, such as an aunt or uncle, is related to one's father. A patriarch is a father and ruler of a family or tribe. A patriot is a person who loves his or her fatherland or country. A patron is a person who gives support and approval for a project or artist, as fathers support and approve of their children.

Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!


very hard to disturb or upset

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet-pasta-spelling-help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!