pol·​ter·​geist ˈpōl-tər-ˌgīst How to pronounce poltergeist (audio)
: a noisy usually mischievous ghost held to be responsible for unexplained noises (such as rappings)

Did you know?

One of the tricks a poltergeist is known for is making "knocking" noises, so it will come as no surprise to learn that the word poltergeist translates literally from German as "knocking spirit." The German verb poltern means "to knock," and Geist is the German word for "spirit." Another Geist descendant in English is zeitgeist ("the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era"). The English word ghost is also related; it descends from the same ancient root that led to Geist. Although ghost has been used in English since before the 12th century, poltergeist is a relative newcomer, first appearing as an English word in the middle of the 19th century.

Examples of poltergeist in a Sentence

we thought a poltergeist was knocking dishes off the shelves, but it turned out to just be vibrations from passing trains
Recent Examples on the Web Soon, two films will compete over nostalgia baiting as Eddie Murphy reprises his role from Beverly Hills Cop and Michael Keaton returns as the titular poltergeist in Beetlejuice Beetlejuice, both based on movies from the 1980s. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 28 May 2024 Beetlejuice Beetlejuice brings Michael Keaton back as the iconically ghastly poltergeist in a decades-in-the-making sequel that reunites him with visionary director Tim Burton and costars Winona Ryder and Catherine O'Hara. Jack Smart, Peoplemag, 23 May 2024 Winona Ryder reprises her part as Lydia, a woman who has ties with the afterlife with Ortega playing her daughter who unintentionally rouses Keaton’s poltergeist. Brent Lang, Variety, 10 Apr. 2024 Morris portrays Saul, a poltergeist eternally tethered to one person, unlike the ghosts of the Woodstone Bed and Breakfast, who are bound to the property. Lester Fabian Brathwaite, EW.com, 26 Mar. 2024 Except a poltergeist neatly organizing some papers. Lester Fabian Brathwaite, EW.com, 3 Jan. 2024 While Webber didn't specify when the poltergeist appeared in his home, the revelation comes after a busy time for the impresario, whose Phantom of the Opera musical took its final bow in April 2023 after 35 years on Broadway. Ingrid Vasquez, Peoplemag, 5 Jan. 2024 The case of the Seaford poltergeist went national and Life Magazine published an article about it. Stephanie Sengwe, Peoplemag, 30 Oct. 2023 He’s approached by Father Kent (Dallas native Owen Wilson) to help single mom Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase Dillon) with a problem in their new home: It’s infested with poltergeists. Dallasnews.com Staff, Dallas News, 7 Sep. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'poltergeist.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


German, from poltern to knock + Geist spirit

First Known Use

1848, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of poltergeist was in 1848


Dictionary Entries Near poltergeist

Cite this Entry

“Poltergeist.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/poltergeist. Accessed 15 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


pol·​ter·​geist ˈpōl-tər-ˌgīst How to pronounce poltergeist (audio)
: a mischievous ghost thought to be the cause of mysterious noises (as rappings)

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