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

intransitive verb

: 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
: to officiate as a pontiff
: to celebrate pontifical mass
pontification noun
pontificator noun


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pon·​tif·​i·​cate pän-ˈti-fi-kət How to pronounce pontificate (audio)
: the state, office, or term of office of a pontiff

Did you know?

We hate to drone on, so we’ll give you the TL;DR on pontificate. In ancient Rome, a pontifex (plural pontifices) was a member of an important council of priests. With the rise of Catholicism, the title pontifex was transferred to the Pope and to Catholic bishops. From pontifex, by way of Medieval Latin, comes the English verb pontificate, which in the early 1800s meant “to officiate as a pontiff”—that is, as a bishop or Pope. (Note that the noun pontificate), which refers to the state, office, or term of office of a pontiff had been borrowed directly from Latin in the 15th century.) By the late 1800s, pontificate was also being used derisively for lay individuals who spoke as if they had the authority of a member of the clergy. To this day the word connotes an air of spurious superiority—one might consider this sense of pontificate to be the spiritual forerunner of mansplain.

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
Recent Examples on the Web
For business leaders, APEC is an opportunity to schmooze, press their agendas and pontificate about the state of the world. Thomas Black, Fortune, 15 Nov. 2023 The new format, which will run 20 episodes and be available in video and audio formats, includes wide-ranging chats with the whole family as Ozzy, Sharon, Kelly, and Jack pontificate on everything from romance to true crime. Kory Grow, Rolling Stone, 4 Sep. 2023 Among his latest obsessions is pontificating on the investigation into the cocaine found in the White House on July 2. Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY, 17 July 2023 The title track to 1994’s Parklife is best remembered for its scene-stealing guest appearance by actor Phil Daniels (Quadrophenia, EastEnders), pontificating on his daily routine of having a cup of tea in the morning and feeding the pigeons. Al Shipley, SPIN, 12 June 2023 Mike pontificated about the government’s fire hose of free money, explained the mysteries of Vegas dice tables and daydreamed about his fantasy baseball team having a big finish. Sharon Grigsby, Dallas News, 28 May 2023 Cooper is in the middle of pontificating about danger and protecting the world and whatnot, when an actual Skype call appears on the big screen. Tanya Melendez, EW.com, 1 May 2023 This wasn’t just a two-time MVP pontificating after a shocking defeat though. Journal Sentinel, 27 Apr. 2023 Instead, characters nobly pontificate or murmur gnomically about whether the young hero, Paul Atreides, is or isn’t the Kwisatz Haderach, the promised warrior prophet who will lead the tough and fiercely independent Fremen to victory over their brutal oppressors. Washington Post, 21 Oct. 2021
His influence on the world stage, which seemed so significant at the beginning of his pontificate, has been buffeted by the prevailing winds of international politics, macroeconomic pressures and recalcitrant human behavior. Elisabetta Povoledo, New York Times, 4 Oct. 2023 History's first Latin American pope has made the plight of migrants a priority of his 10-year pontificate, traveling to Lampedusa in his first trip as pope to honor migrants who drowned. Nicole Winfield and Sylvie Corbet The Associated Press, Arkansas Online, 23 Sep. 2023 Many Vatican watchers consider the synod to be a defining moment of the Francis pontificate, since the official agenda includes hot-button issues such as the role of women in decision-making roles in the church, the acceptance of LGBTQ+ Catholics and celibacy for priests. Nicole Winfield, BostonGlobe.com, 4 Sep. 2023 The Catholic bishops in the United States have faced criticism over the 10 years of Pope Francis's pontificate for not wholeheartedly embracing the pope's more liberal approach to leading the Catholic Church than the more conservative popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II. Jeremiah Poff, Washington Examiner, 28 Aug. 2023 His pontificate, which lasted eight years, was a muted coda to John Paul’s. Paul Elie, The New Yorker, 4 Jan. 2023 The guidelines, which are based on Catholic principles including social solidarity and human rights, also reflect the priorities of Pope Francis, who has made protection of the environment and economic justice signature causes of his pontificate. Francis X. Rocca, WSJ, 25 Nov. 2022 Now, for the first time in his pontificate, there are zero ex-popes. Stefano Pitrelli, Washington Post, 5 Jan. 2023 The large increase in the number of electors could raise speculation that the pope could be preparing for the end of his pontificate. Francis X. Rocca, WSJ, 9 July 2023 See More

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

Word History



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


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

First Known Use


1818, in the meaning defined at sense 2a


15th century, in the meaning defined above

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


Dictionary Entries Near pontificate

Cite this Entry

“Pontificate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pontificate. Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
pon·​tif·​i·​cate pän-ˈtif-i-kət How to pronounce pontificate (audio)
: the office or term of office of a pontiff


2 of 2 verb
pon·​tif·​i·​cate pän-ˈtif-ə-ˌkāt How to pronounce pontificate (audio)
pontificated; pontificating
: to speak pompously

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