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

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Synonyms for pestilence


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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 Gretel & Hansel stars Lillis and Sammy Leakey as siblings who leave home during a time of pestilence and famine. Clark Collis,, "See the It Losers Club reunite for Sophia Lillis' new movie Gretel & Hansel," 24 Jan. 2020 However, historical accounts belie the myth that people slept longer or better centuries ago when sleep was compromised by pestilence, fear of night marauders, and poorer ability to control the ambient temperature or treat illnesses. Molly Longman,, "Do You Suffer From Orthosomnia? The New Condition Sabotaging Our Sleep," 7 Jan. 2020 There were stories about disaster preparation, consumer guides with survival gadgets, and this front-page story about religious groups’ prophecies of pestilence and hellfire. Peter Hartlaub,, "Black and white and dread all over: Chronicle covers from almost apocalypses," 3 Oct. 2019 Some could tolerate flood, drought, salt and pestilence; some had unique nutritional value; and some were just uniquely pleasant and used in special rituals. Curtis Brainard, Scientific American, "Introducing the October 2019 Issue," 29 Sep. 2019 General modern histories find pestilence and disease rather dull when compared to national supermen, which are most often military generals. Emily Toomey, Smithsonian, "How Mosquitos Helped Shape the Course of Human History," 5 Aug. 2019 Funny that there’s pestilence always close to Trump. Petula Dvorak, Washington Post, "The vermin in the White House," 29 July 2019 That reasoned xenophobia was reinforced by British colonialists, who turned their muskets and cannons on the islanders, stole their land, then stood back as pestilence carried off most of the population. Alex Perry, Outside Online, "The Last Days of John Allen Chau," 24 July 2019 They’re seen as signs of urban decay and carriers of pestilence. Charlie Hamilton James, National Geographic, "How rats became an inescapable part of city living," 17 June 2019

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

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Last Updated

1 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Pestilence.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for pestilence


How to pronounce pestilence (audio)

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

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