noun, often attributive
pov·er·ty | \ ˈpä-vər-tē \

Definition of poverty 

1a : the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions

b : renunciation as a member of a religious order of the right as an individual to own property

3a : debility due to malnutrition

b : lack of fertility

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Choose the Right Synonym for poverty

poverty, indigence, penury, want, destitution mean the state of one with insufficient resources. poverty may cover a range from extreme want of necessities to an absence of material comforts. the extreme poverty of the slum dwellers indigence implies seriously straitened circumstances. the indigence of her years as a graduate student penury suggests a cramping or oppressive lack of money. a catastrophic illness that condemned them to years of penury want and destitution imply extreme poverty that threatens life itself through starvation or exposure. lived in a perpetual state of want the widespread destitution in countries beset by famine

Examples of poverty in a Sentence

He was born in poverty. There is a poverty of information about the disease.

Recent Examples on the Web

Even the slightest spike in prices may be higher than residents can bear in a blue collar city where nearly 25% of residents live below the poverty level. Justin Worland/pueblo, Time, "How One Industrial City Is Fighting to Go Green," 12 July 2018 At the other end were people with a family income above 350% of the federal poverty level (at least $41,580 for a single person or $85,127 for a family of four in 2016). Karen Kaplan, latimes.com, "If you're an adult in America, there's about a 50-50 chance you've been on a diet in the past year," 12 July 2018 This can be especially tricky if their income is close to the cutoff for eligibility, which is 400 percent of the federal poverty level — $48,200 for a single person and $64,960 for a family of two like the Stapps. Catherine Ho, SFChronicle.com, "Affordable Care Act’s unexpected side effect: an IOU to the IRS," 8 July 2018 The hot spot area has many poor people, with 37% of residents are living below the poverty level, according to 2016Census estimates. USA TODAY, "Death on foot: Where you're most likely to die in the 5 most dangerous cities," 3 July 2018 It was located less than a mile from my house, in the city’s Bayview district, where a lot of the city’s public housing sits and 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level. Daniel Duane, WIRED, "How the Startup Mentality Failed Kids in San Francisco," 28 June 2018 State of Opportunity Average salaries are above the national average and poverty levels are lower in the state of Querétaro, where multinational companies have built factories. Robbie Whelan, WSJ, "Two States of Mexico Reveal the Split Driving Sunday’s Presidential Election," 28 June 2018 People on CalWorks, the state welfare program, will see monthly grants rise by 10 percent in April, the start of a multiyear effort to lift the income of the poorest Californians to 50 percent of the federal poverty level. Jonathan J. Cooper, The Christian Science Monitor, "California sees $9 billion surplus, passes budget to help poor," 15 June 2018 Virginia will join 31 other states and the District of Columbia in providing health insurance to its residents who earn up to 138% of the poverty level, or roughly $16,800 for an individual or $28,700 for a family of three this year. Ryan Nobles, CNN, "Virginia set to expand Medicaid in policy win for Democrats," 30 May 2018

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

12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for poverty

Middle English poverte, from Anglo-French poverté, from Latin paupertat-, paupertas, from pauper poor — more at poor

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Learn More about poverty

Dictionary Entries near poverty





poverty grass

poverty line

poverty pine

Phrases Related to poverty

poverty trap

the poverty line

Statistics for poverty

Last Updated

6 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for poverty

The first known use of poverty was in the 12th century

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More Definitions for poverty



English Language Learners Definition of poverty

: the state of being poor

: a lack of something


pov·er·ty | \ ˈpä-vər-tē \

Kids Definition of poverty

: the condition of being poor : lack of money or possessions


pov·er·ty | \ ˈpäv-ərt-ē \
plural poverties

Medical Definition of poverty 

: debility due to malnutrition evidence of poverty in calves

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Comments on poverty

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


alleviating pain or harshness

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