peri·​pe·​teia ˌper-ə-pə-ˈtē-ə How to pronounce peripeteia (audio) -ˈtī- How to pronounce peripeteia (audio)
: a sudden or unexpected reversal of circumstances or situation especially in a literary work

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Peripeteia comes from Greek, in which the verb peripiptein means "to fall around" or "to change suddenly." It usually indicates a turning point in a drama after which the plot moves steadily to its denouement. In his Poetics, Aristotle describes peripeteia as the shift of the tragic protagonist's fortune from good to bad—a shift that is essential to the plot of a tragedy. The term is also occasionally used of a similar change in actual affairs. For example, in a 2006 article in The New York Times, Michael Cooper described William Weld's second term as Massachusetts' governor as "political peripeteia": it "began with a landslide victory and ended with frustrated hopes and his resignation."

Examples of peripeteia in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Louisville's peripeteia arrived in resilience after abysmal starts in back-to-back wins over Marist and Northwestern. Shannon Russell, The Courier-Journal, 27 Mar. 2021

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

Word History


Greek, from peripiptein to fall around, change suddenly, from peri- + piptein to fall — more at feather

First Known Use

1591, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of peripeteia was in 1591


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Cite this Entry

“Peripeteia.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Feb. 2024.

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