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 Williams sisters always are willing to pontificate about their greatness around serves and smiles. Terence Moore, Forbes, 2 June 2021 There’s always someone to pontificate and someone to bless the food before the meals. Beth Thames | Bethmthames@gmail.com, al, 19 May 2021 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 8 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun In Kennedy’s postwar America, Catholics were viewed more favorably, thanks partly to the irenic pontificate of John XXIII. The Salt Lake Tribune, 20 Apr. 2021 Building relations between Christianity and Islam is a major theme of Pope Francis’s trip, as well as of his pontificate. Jared Malsin, WSJ, 6 Mar. 2021 This year marks the eighth Christmas of the 84-year-old Francis’ pontificate, Reuters reported. Dom Calicchio, Fox News, 25 Dec. 2020 This celebration went on to become a yearly tradition during the pontificate of Pope Francis. Nr Symposium, National Review, 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, 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, 10 Nov. 2020 There was little doubt that Francis, recorded on camera, made the statements during his pontificate. Jason Horowitz, New York Times, 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, 25 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

8 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Pontificate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pontificate. Accessed 25 Jun. 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

More from Merriam-Webster on pontificate

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for pontificate

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