pon·​tif·​i·​cate | \ pän-ˈti-fə-ˌkāt How to pronounce pontificate (audio) \
pontificated; pontificating

Definition of pontificate

 (Entry 1 of 2)

intransitive verb

1 : to speak or express opinions in a pompous or dogmatic way He does not pontificate about whether one ought to choose, if forced to it, to betray one's country rather than one's friends …— Robin W. Winks What these interviews generally come down to is an invitation to writers to pontificate upon things for which it is either unseemly for them to speak (the quality of their own work) or upon which they are unfit to judge (the state of the cosmos).— Joseph Epstein
2a : to officiate as a pontiff
b : to celebrate pontifical mass


pon·​tif·​i·​cate | \ pän-ˈti-fi-kət How to pronounce pontificate (audio) , -ˌkāt \

Definition of pontificate (Entry 2 of 2)

: the state, office, or term of office of a pontiff

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Other Words from pontificate


pontification \ (ˌ)pän-​ˌti-​fə-​ˈkā-​shən How to pronounce pontificate (audio) \ noun
pontificator \ pän-​ˈti-​fə-​ˌkā-​tər How to pronounce pontificate (audio) \ noun

Did You Know?

In ancient Rome, the pontifices were powerful priests who administered the part of civil law that regulated relationships with the deities recognized by the state. Their name, pontifex, derives from the Latin words pons, meaning "bridge," and facere, meaning "to make," and some think it may have developed because the group was associated with a sacred bridge over the river Tiber (although there is no proof of that). With the rise of Catholicism, the title "pontifex" was transferred to the Pope and to Catholic bishops. Pontificate derives from "pontifex," and in its earliest English uses it referred to things associated with such prelates. By the early 1800s, "pontificate" was also being used derisively for individuals who spoke as if they had the authority of an ecclesiastic.

Examples of pontificate in a Sentence

Verb We had to listen to her pontificate about the best way to raise children. Noun He was elected to the pontificate last year. during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II
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Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The World Economic Forum was normally held in the Alpine resort of Davos, Switzerland, affording captains of industry and heads of state a venue to pontificate on panels about the future of the global economy. Joe Parkinson, Wired, "How #BringBackOurGirls Became an International Rallying Cry," 2 Mar. 2021 According to Variety, which first reported the news, the new Revenge of the Nerds will be a contemporary reimagining of the decidedly un-PC original and will pontificate about today's nerd culture and what constitutes a geek in the 21st century. Clark Collis, EW.com, "Lucas Brothers to write and star in Seth MacFarlane-produced Revenge of the Nerds reboot," 16 Dec. 2020 When not busy trying to murder humans in The Matrix, the AI program known as Agent Smith took time to pontificate on our nature as a species. Matt Simon, Wired, "All the Stuff Humans Make Now Outweighs Earth’s Organisms," 15 Dec. 2020 There was high turnout among young voters during the 2018 midterm elections, which prompted experts to pontificate that young voters would turn out en masse in the 2020 Democratic primaries. Rebecca Morin, USA TODAY, "Young and progressive voters aren’t just ‘settling for Biden’ anymore. They’re going all in.," 26 Oct. 2020 In recent years, letters and documents have come to light that show her not as the violent insurrectionist of official histories but as a domesticated pacifist who preferred to pontificate on paper rather than demonstrate in the streets. Norman Lebrecht, WSJ, "‘Rosa Luxemburg’ Review: Lady Spartacus," 8 Sep. 2020 But this time, rather than the dull and pontificating sister of Austen’s work, Hadlow’s Mary perseveres. Joan Gaylord, The Christian Science Monitor, "‘The Other Bennet Sister’ asks ‘What if?’ about bookish Mary," 8 Apr. 2020 After that, the Senate trial can officially start Tuesday, and everyone can stop pontificating over what happens next. Aj Willingham, CNN, "5 things to know for January 16: Impeachment, Russia, China, immigration, Syria," 16 Jan. 2020 Everybody knows the drama associated with her entrance, alongside James Hood, another African American student, as Gov. George Wallace pontificated and waved his arms for the television cameras and crowds of people shouted and clapped. Beth Thames | Bethmthames@gmail.com, al, "Daughter’s book gives insight into ‘growing up Wallace’," 12 Feb. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Building relations between Christianity and Islam is a major theme of Pope Francis’s trip, as well as of his pontificate. Jared Malsin, WSJ, "Pope Francis Meets Iraqi Shiite Leader, Seeking to Build Ties With Islam," 6 Mar. 2021 This year marks the eighth Christmas of the 84-year-old Francis’ pontificate, Reuters reported. Dom Calicchio, Fox News, "Pope Francis celebrates low-key Christmas Eve Mass amid coronavirus restrictions," 25 Dec. 2020 This celebration went on to become a yearly tradition during the pontificate of Pope Francis. Nr Symposium, National Review, "Men of Heroic Virtue Can Live in the World Today — Andrew Walther Did," 6 Dec. 2020 McCarrick was named a cardinal by John Paul II, and some Vatican officials had braced for the possibility that the report could tarnish the reputation of his pontificate. Washington Post, "Vatican says Pope John Paul II was aware of misconduct allegations against ex-cardinal McCarrick nearly 2 decades before his removal," 10 Nov. 2020 McCarrick was named a cardinal by John Paul II, and some Vatican officials had braced for the possibility that the report could tarnish the reputation of his pontificate. Chico Harlan, Anchorage Daily News, "Vatican says pope was aware of misconduct allegations against ex-cardinal nearly 2 decades before his removal," 10 Nov. 2020 There was little doubt that Francis, recorded on camera, made the statements during his pontificate. Jason Horowitz, New York Times, "Pope Francis, in Shift for Church, Voices Support for Same-Sex Civil Unions," 21 Oct. 2020 An offhand remark that Pope Francis made about gay people in July, 2013, is still the single most memorable statement of his pontificate. Paul Elie, The New Yorker, "Pope Francis Supports Same-Sex Civil Unions, but the Church Must Do More," 25 Oct. 2020 Francis signed the encyclical, the third of his pontificate, on Saturday (Oct. 3) in Assisi, Italy, the birthplace of his namesake, St. Francis. The Salt Lake Tribune, "Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, enshrines familiar criticisms of racism and borders," 5 Oct. 2020

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


1818, in the meaning defined at sense 2a


15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for pontificate


Medieval Latin pontificatus, past participle of pontificare, from Latin pontific-, pontifex


Middle English, from Latin pontificatus, from pontific-, pontifex

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The first known use of pontificate was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

16 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Pontificate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pontificate. Accessed 10 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for pontificate



English Language Learners Definition of pontificate

 (Entry 1 of 2)

disapproving : to speak or express your opinion about something in a way that shows that you think you are always right



English Language Learners Definition of pontificate (Entry 2 of 2)

: the position of a pope
: the period of time during which a particular person is pope

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