pa·​tri·​ot | \ ˈpā-trē-ət How to pronounce patriot (audio) , -ˌät, chiefly British ˈpa-trē-ət \

Definition of patriot

: 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.

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 Ruby Ridge has been cited often by militia and patriot groups since. The Salt Lake Tribune, 14 May 2022 Ruby Ridge has often been cited by militia and patriot groups since. Sarah Rumpf, Fox News, 14 May 2022 Today, the organization — which consists of women of lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution — uses the house as its headquarters. Lennie Omalza, The Courier-Journal, 10 Mar. 2022 The case quickly gained national attention with Rittenhouse, particularly in conservative media, being hailed as a patriot and hero by gun rights advocates. Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 29 Oct. 2021 Martin is royalty in Scotland and a passionate patriot, so who better to take viewers on an entertaining journey. K.j. Yossman, Variety, 7 Mar. 2022 The museum said the 1,000-pound bell was made by the Revolutionary War patriot's son, Joseph Warren Revere, who took over his father's foundry in 1804. William J. Kole, USA TODAY, 4 Mar. 2022 Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian patriot and unbending moralist who wrote War and Peace, would have despised Putin or prayed for his lost soul or both. Tarik Cyril Amar, Time, 4 Mar. 2022 Pavlichenko is multidimensional: a patriot, a librarian, a loving mother and a woman who faced prejudice in the primarily male Soviet military. Washington Post, 2 Mar. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of patriot

1577, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for patriot

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

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The first known use of patriot was in 1577

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Last Updated

17 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Patriot.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for patriot


pa·​tri·​ot | \ ˈpā-trē-ət How to pronounce patriot (audio) \

Kids Definition of patriot

: a person who loves his or her country and strongly supports it

More from Merriam-Webster on patriot

Nglish: Translation of patriot for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of patriot for Arabic Speakers


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