pes·​ti·​lence | \ˈpe-stə-lən(t)s \

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

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Synonyms for pestilence


pest, plague

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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

And yes, a pestilence-ravaged, emaciated Prior, abandoned by Louis, his squeamish lover, can have his ceiling crack in two as an Angel (Francesca Faridany) bursts through, endowing him with a terrible, incomprehensible prophecy. Lily Janiak, San Francisco Chronicle, "Berkeley Rep revives ‘Angels in America,’ in all its soaring spirit," 29 Apr. 2018 Agriculture has always been a business of vast uncertainties—uncontrollable sunlight and rainfall, as well as unpredictable pestilence and disease. Alan Murray, Fortune, "China Surprise, EU Tariffs, Browder Arrest: CEO Daily for May 30, 2018," 30 May 2018 Like a perennial pestilence, a familiar set of naysayers emerge, looking to get their names in the headlines. Al Saracevic, San Francisco Chronicle, "I tell ya ... the Warriors don’t get no respect," 3 May 2018 Cell phones raise, hoping to capture a moment of pestilence. Alex Prewitt,, "The NHL Penalty Box Is a Small Glass Case Made for Oddities," 19 Apr. 2018 The swan-boys fly away while their sister, Eliza, is dispatched to a remote village away from the pestilence. WSJ, "Children’s Books: Face-to-Face With the Classics," 23 Mar. 2018 The series of epidemics, including the one in 1545, are simply referred to as cocoliztli, the generic Aztec word for pestilence. Beth Mole, Ars Technica, "Gut bacteria linked to cataclysmic epidemic that wiped out 16th-century Mexico," 16 Jan. 2018 Today, that pestilence is racing toward Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo at the rate of more than a mile a day, turning Brazil’s coastal megacities into mega-ticking-timebombs. Megan Molteni, WIRED, "When WhatsApp's Fake News Problem Threatens Public Health," 9 Mar. 2018 As the birds attack — a single gull strike quickly escalates to an exploding gas station — townspeople think that the saucy vibe of newcomer Melanie is somehow causing this pestilence. Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle, "‘The Birds,’ released in 1963, is the movie we need in 2018," 19 Feb. 2018

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.

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First Known Use of pestilence

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Last Updated

11 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for pestilence

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

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More Definitions for pestilence



English Language Learners Definition of pestilence

: a disease that causes many people to die


pes·​ti·​lence | \ˈpe-stə-ləns \

Kids Definition of pestilence

: a contagious usually fatal disease that spreads quickly


pes·​ti·​lence | \ˈpes-tə-lən(t)s \

Medical Definition of pestilence 

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

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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).


something that serves to warn or remind

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