pre·​tense | \ ˈprē-ˌten(t)s How to pronounce pretense (audio) , 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

Ogg said that because two people died while Goines was allegedly committing a felony -- tampering with a government record by obtaining one under false pretenses -- he was charged with two counts of felony murder in the deaths. Hollie Silverman, CNN, "Former Houston officer accused of lying faces murder charges after botched raid," 23 Aug. 2019 James O’Keefe, an activist who likes to capture videos under false pretenses to embarrass liberals and journalists, filmed the scene. Katie Rogers, New York Times, "White House Hosts Conservative Internet Activists at a ‘Social Media Summit’," 11 July 2019 No Harvard coaches were charged in that scheme, nor were any parents accused of securing admission to the school under false pretenses, though one allegedly tried. Melissa Korn, WSJ, "Harvard Dismisses Fencing Coach Over Conflict-of-Interest Violation," 9 July 2019 Multiple crew members told the reporter Chloe Melas that Spacey had a habit of touching male staffers, sometimes by fake wrestling with them as a pretense to grab their crotches, and sometimes in yet-more-aggressive ways. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "Kevin Spacey Is Not Vindicated," 18 July 2019 This year, Amazon just gave up on any pretense of a one-day event. Mike Murphy, Quartz, "Amazon Prime day is here again. And it’s not a single day," 25 June 2019 According to court records, McGregor picked up the woman May 15 at her hotel on Fort Lauderdale beach under the pretense of taking her to buy some drugs. Wayne K. Roustan,, "Man accused of armed kidnapping, attempted rape, attempted murder," 15 June 2019 The old democratic promise of travel, that everyone might have an adventure, isn’t maintained even as a pretense. Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, "The TWA Hotel revives a magnificent, mid-century vision of the friendly skies," 12 June 2019 Oleg, see, is in the States on the pretense of attending a class in the titular subject, but Stan suspects something more is up. Todd Vanderwerff, Vox, "The Americans begins its long plunge toward the end in a riveting episode," 12 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

6 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for pretense

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

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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
formal : 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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More from Merriam-Webster on pretense

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with pretense

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for pretense

Spanish Central: Translation of pretense

Nglish: Translation of pretense for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of pretense for Arabic Speakers

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