adjective pe·cu·liar \ pi-ˈkyül-yər \
|Updated on: 14 Aug 2018

Definition of peculiar

1 : characteristic of only one person, group, or thing : distinctive
  • … a drowsy fervour of manner and tone which was quite peculiar to her.
  • —Thomas Hardy
2 : different from the usual or normal:
a : special, particular
  • a matter of peculiar interest
b : odd, curious
  • It seems peculiar that she would leave town without telling anybody.
c : eccentric, queer
  • The play had a zany plot and very peculiar characters.



peculiar was our Word of the Day on 09/27/2016. Hear the podcast!

Examples of peculiar in a Sentence

  1. As military coups go, this was a most peculiar one, bloodless, and in Bangkok at least quite popular. —Ian BurumaNew York Review1 Mar. 2007
  2. Right about then, Ensberg got himself back on the field, where a peculiar thing happened: he stopped thinking. —Tom FriendESPN28 Aug. 2006
  3. I smell again the peculiar and dynamic smell of Gillespie's science room. —Muriel SparkCurriculum Vitae(1992) 1993
  4. It seems peculiar that he would leave town and not tell anybody.

  5. The dog's peculiar behavior worried them.

  6. She got a peculiar feeling when the phone rang.

  7. She had a peculiar expression on her face.

Recent Examples of peculiar from the Web

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

peculiar Has Latin Roots

Peculiar comes from Latin peculiaris, an adjective meaning "privately owned" or "special" that is derived from the word for "property," peculium. Those words are cognate with pecu, a word for "cattle" that is also etymologically linked to a few English words related to money. Among these are pecuniary ("of or relating to money"), peculate ("to embezzle"), and impecunious ("having very little or no money"). Peculiar borrowed the Latin meanings of peculiaris, but it eventually came to refer to qualities possessed only by a particular individual, group, or thing. That sense is commonly followed by the preposition to, as in "a custom peculiar to America." In time, peculiar was being used specifically for unusual qualities, as well as the individuals that possessed them, which led to the word's "odd," "curious," and "eccentric" senses.

Origin and Etymology of peculiar

Middle English peculier, from Latin peculiaris of private property, special, from peculium private property, from pecu cattle; akin to Latin pecus cattle — more at fee

Synonym Discussion of peculiar

characteristic, individual, peculiar, distinctive mean indicating a special quality or identity. characteristic applies to something that distinguishes or identifies a person or thing or class.
    • responded with her characteristic wit
individual stresses qualities that distinguish one from all other members of the same kind or class.
    • a highly individual writing style
peculiar applies to qualities possessed only by a particular individual or class or kind and stresses rarity or uniqueness.
    • an eccentricity that is peculiar to the British
distinctive indicates qualities distinguishing and uncommon and often superior or praiseworthy.
    • a distinctive aura of grace and elegance
strange, singular, unique, peculiar, eccentric, erratic, odd, quaint, outlandish mean departing from what is ordinary, usual, or to be expected. strange stresses unfamiliarity and may apply to the foreign, the unnatural, the unaccountable.
    • a journey filled with strange sights
singular suggests individuality or puzzling strangeness.
    • a singular feeling of impending disaster
unique implies singularity and the fact of being without a known parallel.
    • a career unique in the annals of science
peculiar implies a marked distinctiveness.
    • the peculiar status of America's first lady
eccentric suggests a wide divergence from the usual or normal especially in behavior.
    • the eccentric eating habits of preschoolers
erratic stresses a capricious and unpredictable wandering or deviating.
    • a friend's suddenly erratic behavior
odd applies to a departure from the regular or expected.
    • an odd sense of humor
quaint suggests an old-fashioned but pleasant oddness.
    • a quaint fishing village
outlandish applies to what is uncouth, bizarre, or barbaric.
    • outlandish fashions of the time



noun pe·cu·liar \ pi-ˈkyül-yər \

Definition of peculiar

: something exempt from ordinary jurisdiction; especially : a church or parish exempt from the jurisdiction of the ordinary in whose territory it lies

Origin and Etymology of peculiar

PECULIAR Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of peculiar for English Language Learners

  • : not usual or normal

  • : not well : somewhat ill

PECULIAR Defined for Kids


adjective pe·cu·liar \ pi-ˈkyül-yər \

Definition of peculiar for Students

1 : of or limited to only one person, thing, or place
  • It's a custom peculiar to England.
2 : different from the usual : odd



History for peculiar

The word peculiar first meant “a person's own.” You may have some quality that is just your own. No one else has it. That surely makes it unusual. This is how peculiar came to mean “unusual” or “odd.”

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up peculiar? 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!


subject to rapid or unexpected change

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

The Eponym Quiz

  • rubens-painting
  • Which is the best synonym of bowdlerize?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Word Winder's CrossWinder

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!