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 pontification (audio) \ noun
pontificator \ pän-​ˈti-​fə-​ˌkā-​tər How to pronounce pontificator (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


We had to listen to her pontificate about the best way to raise children.


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

Second Saturday Wine Nights — Champagne & Port SAT Learn to taste and pontificate on rare bottles French Champagne and Port from Portugal, 8 p.m. Saturday, The Knife Room at Nordo, 103 S. Main St., Seattle; $40 (206-579-6215 or CafeNordo.com). Madeline Mckenzie, The Seattle Times, "Community calendar: Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition, Winter Solstice Night Market, Jingle Bell Run," 5 Dec. 2018 Fund managers who knew little or nothing about Turkey were pontificating about its macroeconomic weakness, and money was pouring out. James Mackintosh, WSJ, "How I Won A Bet By Loving the Turkish Lira," 20 Aug. 2018 You’re not just some person pontificating on startups, of which there are many. Eric Johnson, Recode, "Startup advisor Elad Gil is worried that we’re losing our ability to be optimistic about tech," 20 Aug. 2018 The idea of men sitting around on all these networks pontificating on a woman's dress, why aren't women talking about veils and dresses? Fox News, "New data reveals US faces legal immigration crisis," 22 May 2018 After weeks of wondering and pontificating over every pitch meeting the star center took, John Tavares signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs for seven years at an $11 million AAV. Michael Blinn, SI.com, "John Tavares Joins Promising Maple Leafs With Seven-Year Deal," 30 June 2018 Feiffer structures the first part of the play as an almost-monologue for David (Tom Aulino), with occasional interruptions from Ella (Rebecca Berens), who largely keeps to her function: serving as her pontificating father’s raptly adoring audience. Christine Dolen, miamiherald, "'I'm Gonna Pray for You So Hard' does, sadly, reflect the dark soul of our times," 11 June 2018 Instead, her subjects pontificate at length, seemingly without challenge or direction, and missed opportunities mount as the book progresses. Sarah Jones, The New Republic, "The Myth of Trump’s Populist Revolt," 18 May 2018 In typical government style, the announcement was big on pontificating politicians and short on detail. Jack Stewart, WIRED, "FAA Relaxes Drone Restrictions With 10 New Programs," 9 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Advocacy for migrants has been a signature issue for Pope Francis since the start of his pontificate. Francis X. Rocca, WSJ, "Pope Brings Pro-Migrant Message to Central America," 24 Jan. 2019 Pope Francis established the council in 2013, the first year of his pontificate. Francis X. Rocca, WSJ, "Pope Cuts Three Cardinals—Two Tainted by Scandal—From Council," 12 Dec. 2018 If the pope knew of that dossier and nevertheless empowered the cardinal to represent and influence the church world-wide for five years, the future of this pontificate is in the gravest doubt. Robert P. George, WSJ, "Is It Time for Pope Francis to Resign?," 30 Aug. 2018 The most prominent doctrinal question in the current pontificate has been over divorce. Francis X. Rocca, WSJ, "Pope Benedict Protects Pope Francis’ Right Flank," 13 Mar. 2018 Three months ago, Pope Francis was at the low point of his five-year pontificate in terms of public image and credibility. Francis X. Rocca, WSJ, "Pope’s Handling of Sex-Abuse Case Shows Political Savvy," 21 May 2018 Francis’s attributed views aren’t totally unheard of among Christians Francis’s reported dismissal of hell ties into a wider theme of his pontificate: celebrating God’s mercy over God’s judgment. Tara Isabella Burton, Vox, "Pope Francis reportedly denies the existence of hell. Vatican panics.," 30 Mar. 2018 Five years ago: Pope Benedict XVI bestowed the final Sunday blessing of his pontificate on a cheering crowd in St. Peter's Square. Mike Rose, cleveland.com, "Today in History: February 24, 2018," 24 Feb. 2018 The leaks about the hand-delivery of this letter to the pontiff may be evidence itself that senior churchmen are losing confidence in his pontificate. Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review, "It’s Now the Pope’s Scandal," 6 Feb. 2018

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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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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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with pontificate

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Spanish Central: Translation of pontificate

Nglish: Translation of pontificate for Spanish Speakers

Comments on pontificate

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


to complain fretfully

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