pes·​ti·​lence | \ ˈpe-stə-lən(t)s How to pronounce pestilence (audio) \

Definition of pestilence

1 : a contagious or infectious epidemic disease that is virulent and devastating especially : bubonic plague
2 : something that is destructive or pernicious I'll pour this pestilence into his ear— William Shakespeare

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for pestilence


Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of pestilence in a Sentence

After years of war and pestilence, few people remained in the city. the fear that terrorists could unleash a pestilence that would wreak unspeakable havoc
Recent Examples on the Web The Greek physician Hippocrates warned in the fifth century B.C. that bad air was the cause of pestilence. Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic, "We’re Just Rediscovering a 19th-Century Pandemic Strategy," 22 Feb. 2021 When wages had grown in the past after periods of pestilence, population surged and wages fell again. Phil Gramm And Mike Solon, WSJ, "In Defense of Scrooge, Whose Thrift Blessed the World," 23 Dec. 2020 Florida does not have a governor, but pestilence does, and in this respect DeSantis has served his only non-Trump constituency with an ardor unparalleled in his career. Jeb Lund, The New Republic, "Ron DeSantis Is TNR’s 2020 Scoundrel of the Year," 29 Dec. 2020 Nearly a century later, another pestilence devastated the region, killing as many as five thousand people a day in Rome. Michael Luo, The New Yorker, "An Advent Lament in the Pandemic," 20 Dec. 2020 Throughout most of history, human societies expected pestilence, famines, and nature’s disasters to cyclically cause calamitous death or destruction. Robin Wright, The New Yorker, "Our Brains Explain the Season’s Sadness," 26 Nov. 2020 Our personal agonies were magnified by the collective sorrows of millions of our fellow citizens who were ravaged by the virus and the countless thousands who were felled by the pestilence. Hisham Melhem, The Atlantic, "To Die in the Time of Pestilence," 22 Nov. 2020 So when a pest or pestilence invades, at least some part of the wheat supply may survive. Matt Simon, Wired, "These Rare Seeds Escaped Syria's War—to Help Feed the World," 17 Nov. 2020 The end may be near for the pestilence that has haunted the world this year. Zeynep Tufekci, The Atlantic, "Lock Yourself Down, Now," 14 Nov. 2020

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

See More

First Known Use of pestilence

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about pestilence

Time Traveler for pestilence Time Traveler

The first known use of pestilence was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Statistics for pestilence

Last Updated

27 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Pestilence.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLA Chicago APA Merriam-Webster

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for pestilence



English Language Learners Definition of pestilence

literary : a disease that causes many people to die


pes·​ti·​lence | \ ˈpe-stə-ləns How to pronounce pestilence (audio) \

Kids Definition of pestilence

: a contagious usually fatal disease that spreads quickly


pes·​ti·​lence | \ ˈpes-tə-lən(t)s How to pronounce pestilence (audio) \

Medical Definition of pestilence

: a contagious or infectious epidemic disease that is virulent and devastating specifically : bubonic plague

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on pestilence

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Who Knew?

Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

 AlphaBear 2

Spell words. Make bears.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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