pre·tense | \ˈprē-ˌten(t)s, pri-ˈten(t)s\
variants: or pretence

Definition of pretense 

1 : a claim made or implied especially : one not supported by fact

2a : mere ostentation : pretentiousness confuse dignity with pomposity and pretense— Bennett Cerf

b : a pretentious act or assertion

3 : an inadequate or insincere attempt to attain a certain condition or quality

4 : professed rather than real intention or purpose : pretext was there under false pretenses

6 : false show : simulation saw through his pretense of indifference

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Examples of pretense in a Sentence

We tried to keep up the pretense that everything was fine. Their indifference is merely pretense.

Recent Examples on the Web

Theft by false pretenses: 4900 block of Alta Canyada Road., "Crime Report: Woman’s car stolen from YMCA lot, then returned to a nearby parking space," 4 July 2018 Andersson’s team is best summed up by Ibrahimovic’s heir as captain: Granqvist, a 33-year-old central defender of old-fashioned virtue, a gritty, grizzled presence, all heart and no pretense. Rory Smith, New York Times, "By His Absence, Zlatan Ibrahimovic Makes Sweden Stronger at the World Cup," 3 July 2018 Nicholson stomps around the film, hair askew and belly hanging out of his leopard print robe, cursing and assaulting with no pretense of gangster grace. Lincoln Michel, GQ, "Martin Scorsese's Best Gangster Movie Is on Netflix," 2 June 2018 The Ohara gang has completely abandoned such strictures to adopt an anti-Kyoto stance: using ingredients that are often ugly, vary in taste and make no pretense of perfection. Tom Downey, WSJ, "Explore Kyoto With the Chefs Who Are Turning Culinary Tradition on Its Head," 28 May 2018 Pretextual traffic stops, in which police pull someone over on the pretense of a minor infraction in order to investigate more serious wrongdoing, have long been criticized as a kind of legal racial profiling. Ian Bogost, The Atlantic, "Driving Without a Smartphone," 10 July 2018 Once charges have been filed, could a defendant get the locational data thrown out on the grounds that the warrant application was based on false pretenses? Aziz Huq, Vox, "The latest Supreme Court decision is being hailed as a big victory for digital privacy. It’s not.," 22 June 2018 On the pretense of visiting a sick aunt, Lidia and her brother, Franco, were whisked across the border to Trieste by their mother. Moira Hodgson, WSJ, "‘My American Dream’ Review: The Bastianich Family Recipe," 20 Apr. 2018 After all, the White House launched a strike on that very pretense last April, and the Syrian regime has already (allegedly) deployed chemical weapons against insurgents and civilians seven times this year. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "America Is About to Risk a World War to Defend the Credibility of Trump’s Tweets," 13 Apr. 2018

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

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for pretense

Middle English, probably modification of Medieval Latin pretensio, irregular from Latin praetendere

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Statistics for pretense

Last Updated

4 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for pretense

The first known use of pretense was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for pretense



English Language Learners Definition of pretense

: a false reason or explanation that is used to hide the real purpose of something

: an act or appearance that looks real but is false

: a claim of having a particular quality, ability, condition, etc.


variants: or pretence \ˈprē-ˌtens, pri-ˈtens \

Kids Definition of pretense

1 : an act or appearance that looks real but is false He made a pretense of studying.

2 : an effort to reach a certain condition or quality His report makes no pretense at completeness.

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Comments on pretense

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


not any or not one

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