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

But anti-poverty advocates say that is paradoxical: Drivers who cannot afford to pay a fine and lose their licenses can no longer drive to work to earn income to pay the debt. Reis Thebault, Washington Post, "In D.C., no more license suspensions for drivers with unpaid tickets," 12 July 2018 Mr Macron promised to unveil an anti-poverty programme in September, as part of a redesign of France’s welfare state for the 21st century. The Economist, "Emmanuel Macron’s popularity hits a new low," 12 July 2018 About 70% of the district’s white students clustered at three top-performing, low-poverty middle schools last year, including M.S. 51, Math & Science Exploratory School and New Voices, according to state data. Leslie Brody, WSJ, "Brooklyn Parents Have Mixed Feelings on School Admissions Proposal," 11 July 2018 My old teacher Theodore Hershberg, longtime head of the Center for Greater Philadelphia at Penn, used to tell us that factories have always closed down; that’s not what dooms cities to poverty. Joseph N. Distefano, Philly.com, "Philly poverty: Cause, or effect?," 11 July 2018 Her parents struggled with poverty while raising Abrams and her five siblings in Gulfport, Mississippi. Chris Cillizza, CNN, "What Stacey Abrams' massive primary win means for her chances to be the nation's first black woman governor," 23 May 2018 In June, the Patriots donated more than 70 iPads (wiped of the playbooks, of course) to United South End Settlements, a non-profit organization helping families in the South End of Boston break the cycle of poverty. Jenny Vrentas, SI.com, "For Many NFL Players, Summer Doesn't Bring Much of a Break," 9 July 2018 Provide pathways out of poverty by increasing the minimum wage to a livable wage and establishing creative avenues to homeownership for the working poor, expanding the middle class. kansascity, "Jean Paul Bradshaw," 30 June 2018 Only a vast public effort could make a dent in alleviating the structures of poverty. Bryce Covert, Longreads, "Pay the Homeless," 29 June 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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Dictionary Entries near poverty





poverty grass

poverty line

poverty pine

Statistics for poverty

Last Updated

1 Nov 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

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playful or foolish behavior

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