pa·​tri·​ot ˈpā-trē-ət How to pronounce patriot (audio)
 chiefly British  ˈpa-trē-ət
: one who loves and supports his or her country
… praised him as a … motivated patriot who was fearless in the quest to preserve American security.W. R. Hearst, Jr.

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To be called a patriot—the word ultimately derives from Greek patrios, meaning "of one's father,"—is today considered an honor, but it wasn't always this way. For much of the 17th century, to be deemed a "good patriot" was to be a lover of one's country who agreed on political and/or religious matters with whoever was doing the deeming. British loyalists applied the word like a badge to supporters of the ruling monarchy, but then the word took on negative connotations as it was applied first to hypocritical patriots—those who espoused loyalty to the Crown but whose actions belied that espousal, and then to outright anti-royalists. But in the 18th century, American writers, including Benjamin Franklin, embraced patriot to define the colonists who took action against British control. After the American Revolutionary War, patriot settled back into more neutral use, but to this day writers on both sides of the aisle grapple over the word.

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More on the Meaning of Patriot

The word patriot signifies a person who loves his or her country and is ready to boldly support and defend it. That meaning has endured since the word's arrival in English in the 16th century, but it has not marched through the years unchallenged.

Ultimately derived from Greek patrios, meaning "of one’s father," patriot entered English via French patriote—meaning "fellow countryman" or "compatriot"—during a time of political unrest in western Europe that was characterized by infighting among fellow countrymen—especially among those of the Protestant and Catholic faiths.

For much of the 17th century, words like good were attached to patriot to distinguish patriots who shared both a love of country and a common allegiance from those having opposing beliefs and loyalties: to be deemed a "good patriot" was to be a lover of country who agreed on political and/or religious matters with whoever was doing the deeming.

The Catholiques were knowne good Patriots under our former Kings.
— Henry Hammond, A view of some exceptions which have been made by a Romanist to the Lord Viscount Falkland's discourse…, 1646

Patriot was used to mean "good patriot" without modification more frequently by the end of the 17th century, but it tended to apply to a supporter of the ruling monarchy.

A Patriot, both the King and Country serves; Prerogative, and Privilege preserves.
— John Dryden, Fables, Ancient and Modern, 1700

Another effect of the tumultuous times was the development of a derogatory use of patriot to refer to hypocritical patriots: people who claimed devotion to one's country and government but whose actions or beliefs belied such devotion. This ultimately led to the discrediting of the loyalty and steadfastness associated with the word patriot.

The years leading up to the American Revolutionary War further propagated the notion of patriot as a name for a seditious rebel against the monarchy. American writers of the 18th century, however, heartily embraced the word to define the colonists who took action against British control. As tensions continued to escalate, a new meaning of patriot came to the forefront, referring to a person who advocates or promotes the independence of their land or people from the country of which they are a colony. Benjamin Franklin provides an early record of this use.

It should be no Wonder … if among so many Thousand true Patriots as New England contains there should be found even Twelve Judases.
— Benjamin Franklin, letter, 7 July 1773

In the end, the patriots won the war and, centuries after America’s Declaration of Independence, patriot has held its place of honor in the English language as the meritorious name for the brave men and women of the armed forces who defend the rights and freedoms of their country. Stripped of all past disparagement, the word has returned to its original meaning: "one who loves his or her country."

Today, active fighting or resistance is not a requirement to being a patriot: a person only needs a strong sense of love for one’s country.

Examples of patriot in a Sentence

He was a great patriot who devoted his life to serving his country. the contention that true patriots would be willing to do anything for their country
Recent Examples on the Web The city’s parliament no longer has any opposition lawmakers since Beijing redrew its electoral system in 2021 to ensure only patriots rule. Chris Lau, CNN, 5 Sep. 2023 His supporters, some dressed as American Revolution-era patriots and playing fifes, were thrilled by Ramaswamy’s turn in the spotlight Wednesday night. Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times, 24 Aug. 2023 The original patriots While the word’s origins come from ancient Greece, its basic meaning in American history is someone who loves his or her country. Gary Fields, Margery Beck and Rebecca Boone, Anchorage Daily News, 4 July 2023 Even the crowning scene of Huston sliding down a gigantic American flag (an iconographic protest reimagined in De Palma’s 1981 Blow Out) symbolizes a patriot/patriarch duality. Armond White, National Review, 16 Aug. 2023 But the state doesn’t have to view Flynn as a patriot to give her a historical marker, Alpert noted. Steven Porter,, 7 Aug. 2023 Take a walk on the Freedom Trail, the 2.5-mile-long route which will take you by Old South Meeting House where the patriots met and debated, the Granary Burying Ground where patriots, including John Hancock, Paul Revere and Sam Adams are buried. Eileen Ogintz, Chicago Tribune, 7 July 2023 In 1817 when Paulding petitioned Congress for a larger pension, a member of Congress accused the three men of being loyalist Cowboys rather than patriots, a charge that was later discredited. Christopher Kuo, New York Times, 21 July 2023 When 100 young patriots gathered at the home of William F. Buckley Jr. in September 1960, the task ahead of them must have felt nearly impossible. Natan Ehrenreich, National Review, 19 July 2023 See More

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

Word History


Middle French patriote compatriot, from Late Latin patriota, from Greek patriōtēs, from patria lineage, from patr-, patēr father

First Known Use

1577, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of patriot was in 1577


Dictionary Entries Near patriot

Cite this Entry

“Patriot.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


pa·​tri·​ot ˈpā-trē-ət How to pronounce patriot (audio)
: a person who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests

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