1 of 3


plighted; plighting; plights

transitive verb

: to put or give in pledge : engage
plight his troth
plighter noun


2 of 3

noun (1)

: a solemnly given pledge : engagement


3 of 3

noun (2)

: an unfortunate, difficult, or precarious situation

Example Sentences

Noun (2) Huckelberry decided to use the owl's plight as the impetus to craft a comprehensive conservation plan. Terry McCarthy, Time, 4 Apr. 2005 It's a sign of where the health-care debate has gone that truly big dilemmas—like the plight of the 42.6 million people still uninsured or the future of Medicare—are taking a back seat to what was only recently a relatively minor campaign issue. Jonathan Alter, Newsweek, 9 Oct. 2000 New political arrangements helped do in both Uruguay and New Zealand, and behind those arrangements are the plights of western Europe's old agricultural supply regions, especially those of France. Jane Jacobs, Cities and the Wealth of Nations, 1984

Word History



Middle English plihten, plyȝten, plighten "to put under risk of forfeiture, promise, pledge" (plighten trouthe "to make a promise, make vows of betrothal"), going back to Old English plihtan "to endanger, compromise," verbal derivative of pliht "danger, risk" — more at plight entry 2

Note: Parallel formations are Old Frisian plichta "to be liable (for)," Middle Dutch plichten, plechten "to pledge, commit," Middle High German phlichten "to take part, oblige, pledge," perhaps pointing to descent from a verb already formed in West Germanic.

Noun (1)

Middle English pliht, plyȝth, plyȝt, plite "danger, harm, strife, sin, guilt, pledge made under risk of forfeiture, covenant," going back to Old English pliht "danger, risk, damage," going back to West Germanic *plehti- (whence also Old Frisian plicht "responsibility, liability," Middle Dutch plicht, plechte "responsibility, community, care," Old High German pfliht "care, fostering, precept"), derivative with the abstract noun suffix *-ti- from the base of *plehan-/*plegan- (whence Old English plēon "to expose to danger, risk the loss of" [class 5 strong verb], Old Frisian plega, pliga "to be in the habit of doing, do," Old Saxon plegan "to accept responsibility [for]," Middle Dutch pleghen "to look after, care, be used to, use, apply," Old High German pflegan "to look [after], bear responsibility, vouch [for]"), of uncertain origin

Note: As has long been acknowledged, the ulterior origin of *plehan-/*plegan- is problematic. The original meaning of the verb is not entirely clear, and the initial p- presupposes *b-, which existed marginally, if at all, in the Indo-European parent language of Germanic. E. Seebold (Vergleichendes und etymologisches Wörterbuch der germanischen starken Verben, The Hague, 1970) takes as the primary meaning "to stake (as an amount in a game)," from which both "expose to danger" (as in Old English) and "to act as guarantor for, look after, direct, be accustomed to" (as elsewhere in Germanic) proceed. Seebold further attaches to this verb Old English plegan, plegian "to move quickly, occupy oneself, dance, play" (see play entry 1). R. Lühr, et al. (Etymologisches Wörterbuch des Althochdeutschen, Band 6), however, take the original meaning of the Germanic verb to have been "to make, do," from which all the other senses proceed (they point to the many nuances of Latin facere "to do, make"). As an etymological explanation, they compare Middle High German spulgen "to maintain, be accustomed, use" (< Germanic *spulǥ-ii̯e/a-) and suggest that *plehan-/*plegan- was formed from the same base by loss of a presumed mobile s after the Germanic sound shift (hence preserving p). They see the verb as ultimately formed by root extension from Indo-European *(s)pelH- "split off, separate" and connect it with the etymon of plow entry 1.

Noun (2)

Middle English plit, plite, pliȝt, plyght, pleyt "condition, set of circumstances, good condition, health, bad condition, distress," borrowed from Anglo-French plit, plite, plait, ploy "fold, bend, measure of cloth, twist, plait, state, situation, poor situation, predicament," (in literal sense "fold, etc.," also plet, pleit, playe), in part noun derivative of plier, pleier, ploier "to fold, bend," in part going back to Vulgar Latin *plictum "something folded" — more at pleat entry 1, ply entry 3

Note: The forms with -i- and final t (or -te), which predominate in both Anglo-French and Middle English, appear to merge the i of pli (compare Old French plei, ploi, Middle and Modern French pli, and see ply entry 2) with the final consonant of plait, pleit, ploit. The Anglo-Norman Dictionary uses pli as the headword, but the citations given show no examples. Middle English forms such as pliȝt, plyght show assimilation to plight entry 2, of which the Middle English senses "danger, harm, etc.," are not far distant; the Middle English Dictionary enters both words under a single entry plight.

First Known Use


13th century, in the meaning defined above

Noun (1)

13th century, in the meaning defined above

Noun (2)

13th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of plight was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near plight

Cite this Entry

“Plight.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 verb
: to put or give in pledge
plighter noun


2 of 2 noun
: a usually bad condition or state : predicament
in a sorry plight
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