pillage

noun
pil·​lage | \ ˈpi-lij How to pronounce pillage (audio) \

Definition of pillage

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the act of looting or plundering especially in war
2 : something taken as booty

pillage

verb
pillaged; pillaging

Definition of pillage (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to plunder ruthlessly : loot

intransitive verb

: to take booty

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from pillage

Verb

pillager noun

Synonyms for pillage

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Choose the Right Synonym for pillage

Verb

ravage, devastate, waste, sack, pillage, despoil mean to lay waste by plundering or destroying. ravage implies violent often cumulative depredation and destruction. a hurricane ravaged the coast devastate implies the complete ruin and desolation of a wide area. an earthquake devastated the city waste may imply producing the same result by a slow process rather than sudden and violent action. years of drought had wasted the area sack implies carrying off all valuable possessions from a place. barbarians sacked ancient Rome pillage implies ruthless plundering at will but without the completeness suggested by sack. settlements pillaged by Vikings despoil applies to looting or robbing without suggesting accompanying destruction. the Nazis despoiled the art museums

The Various Uses of Pilfer

Pilfer is a synonym of steal, but it typically implies a particular kind of stealing. What is pilfered is usually stolen stealthily—furtively, so that no one will notice—in small amounts and often again and again. One might, for example, pilfer cookies from a cookie jar until a plentiful supply has dwindled to nothing. The word is sometimes used for that kind of stealing: the stealthy and gradual stealing of something that isn't worth much anyway:

Money was tight enough that Dickey's family used silverware pilfered from the local Western Sizzlin….
— L. Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated 2 Apr. 2012

But it is also used when the stolen things are valuable indeed, and the act of pilfering a serious criminal act:

For generations, scavengers have prowled this city with impunity, pouncing on abandoned properties and light poles to pilfer steel, copper and other metals they could trade for cash at scrapyards. The practice left tens of thousands of buildings so damaged that they could not be restored, turning places like the North End into grim cityscapes that appeared to have been ravaged by a tornado.
— John Eligon, The New York Times, 15 Mar. 2015

Pilfer may remind one of a similar also-serious word: pillage. The two words share more than a first syllable; pilfer comes from an old word meaning "booty" (as in, things that are stolen or taken by force, especially during a war) and pillage means "to take things from a place by force especially during a war." But despite their similarities, the words in modern use are very different. Pilfer has long since shed the connotations of violence in its etymological past; what's pilfered is not taken violently. Pillage, on the other hand, remains firmly rooted in violence and especially war; it is not a term you apply when someone's been sneaking cookies from a cookie jar.

Examples of pillage in a Sentence

Noun the pirate ship was laden with the pillage of merchant ships from across the Spanish Main Verb The enemy pillaged the town. The town was pillaged and burned. barbarians known for looting and pillaging
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Suddenly, other buggies veer into view, intent on pillage and theft. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, "“Ad Astra” Will Leave You Awed, Confused, and Sad," 13 Sep. 2019 Considering all the wars and all the rapes and pillages taken place and whatever happened to culture after society? Luke Johnson, Fortune, "‘Rape and Incest’ Comments Highlight House Republicans’ Steve King Problem," 15 Aug. 2019 Considering all the wars and all the rape and pillage that has taken place? Ellen Mcgirt, Fortune, "Author Casey Gerald Ponders the Black Experience in an America Shaped by Hate: raceAhead," 15 Aug. 2019 Drifters from the conflict, skilled in pillage but unable to find gainful employment (of which there is little), have left a deep pool from which groups like CODECO can recruit. The Economist, "Killings in Congo’s north-east spark fears of a return to war," 13 July 2019 The Metropolitan Museum has once again brought us back to the Middle East—to a cradle of civilization that, by a cruel turn of history, has become a scene of hatred, destruction, and cold-blooded pillage. Peter Brown, The New York Review of Books, "Cities That Touched Heaven," 6 June 2019 Watch as Violette and Jenna pillage through each drawer, discovering some French skincare—and haircare!—secrets along the way. Jenna Rosenstein, Harper's BAZAAR, "Go Inside Makeup Artist Violette's Beauty Stash," 18 July 2018 In Maeve's understanding, the Ghost Nation showed up in the name of violence, to attack, pillage and plunder. refinery29.com, "Westworld Season 2, Episode 8: Forget What You Think You Know," 11 June 2018 When the action opens, Jacques Jaujard, deputy head of the Louvre, is packing up the contents of the museum in order to spare France’s art collection from Nazi pillage. Nina Renata Aron, The New Republic, "The Spirit of the Left Bank," 21 Mar. 2018 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb In history, armies of various countries have been guilty of allowing pillaging, rape and murder. Dp Opinion, The Denver Post, "Letters: In politics, where does the truth lie? (12/1/19)," 1 Dec. 2019 Many accuse the governing elite of pillaging the oil-rich country’s wealth while many Iraqis live in poverty. Saphora Smith, NBC News, "Iraqi government must 'engage seriously' with protesters, says U.S. embassy," 6 Nov. 2019 The protests are directed at a postwar political system and a class of elite leaders that Iraqis accuse of pillaging the country’s wealth while the country grows poorer. Washington Post, "Iraqi protesters attack Iran consulate in Karbala," 3 Nov. 2019 For a full week the mob destroyed Roman Catholic churches and pillaged Catholic homes in what came to be known as the Gordon Riots, the most destructive domestic upheaval in the history of London. The Economist, "Does your brain care about other people? It depends," 4 Nov. 2019 Detective Jack McNally and his colleagues headed right over, arriving to find the Hall of Gems a total mess, with numerous display cases shattered, the cabinets broken and their contents pillaged. Corey Kilgannon, New York Times, "How a Band of Surfer Dudes Pulled Off the Biggest Jewel Heist in N.Y. History," 17 Oct. 2019 The government had penetrated and pillaged the servers of global technology companies. Anna Wiener, The New Yorker, "Four Years in Startups," 23 Sep. 2019 Wolfram Lacher, a Libya expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, says the main Tripoli militias dominate Serraj’s government and have infiltrated its institutions to pillage state resources. Washington Post, "In Libya, a rogues’ gallery of militias," 3 July 2019 But then the Vikings were always pillaging England. Dan Neil, WSJ, "2019 Volvo XC40: Routine Ride, Premium Price," 8 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pillage.' 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 pillage

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb

circa 1593, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

History and Etymology for pillage

Noun

Middle English pilage, from Anglo-French, from piler to rob, plunder

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about pillage

Time Traveler for pillage

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for pillage

Cite this Entry

“Pillage.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pillage. Accessed 11 December 2019.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for pillage

pillage

verb

English Language Learners Definition of pillage

: to take things from (a place, such as a city or town) by force especially during a war : to loot or plunder (a place)

pillage

noun
pil·​lage | \ ˈpi-lij How to pronounce pillage (audio) \

Kids Definition of pillage

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: the act of robbing by force especially during a war

pillage

verb
pillaged; pillaging

Kids Definition of pillage (Entry 2 of 2)

: to rob by force especially during a war

pillage

verb
pil·​lage | \ ˈpi-lij \
pillaged; pillaging

Legal Definition of pillage

transitive verb

: to loot or plunder especially in war

intransitive verb

: to take booty

Other Words from pillage

pillage noun

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on pillage

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for pillage

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with pillage

Spanish Central: Translation of pillage

Nglish: Translation of pillage for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of pillage for Arabic Speakers

Comments on pillage

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

WORD OF THE DAY

heavy with or as if with moisture

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Semantic Drift Quiz

  • a twisty river
  • Which of the following was once a synonym for fun?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Citation

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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