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

Much of this debate has played out under false pretenses. Ezra Klein, Vox, "White threat in a browning America," 30 July 2018 Adams was charged with 14 counts of felony obtaining property by false pretense, court records show. Joe Marusak, charlotteobserver, "He used $5,000 in fake coupons at an NC grocery store, but now he may pay big time | Charlotte Observer," 19 Apr. 2018 Tunis and Georganne Selby were arrested this week and charged with felony conversion and obtaining property by false pretense, Monroe police said. Stephen Sorace, Fox News, "Couple charged in gravestone scam took $64G from grieving families, police say," 7 Apr. 2018 This is because laughter is a response to the pretense of human superiority, and its unmasking. Ellen Wayland-smith, Longreads, "Death Rattle: The Body’s Betrayals," 21 Mar. 2018 He was lured to the same park via Facebook Messenger under pretense of a gang meeting, authorities said. Rachel Weiner, Washington Post, "MS-13 members implicated in killings of two Virginia teens found buried in a park," 22 June 2018 More recently, multiple stories about Harvey Weinstein describe the former mega-producer allegedly luring women to his hotel room under the pretense of discussing a role in a movie. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Can Hollywood Kill the Casting Couch?," 13 June 2018 Without the pretense of luxurious fine dining, restaurant doors have opened to a new set of younger, more curious consumers. Nina Sparling, Vogue, "Parcelle, a New Shop From the Team Behind Charlie Bird, Takes the Stress Out of Wine-Buying," 31 May 2018 The amount of pretense required to keep all sensible people—which is to say, any person who was not a Republican—in their chairs must have been heroic. Charles P. Pierce, Esquire, "I Watched a Ghoulish Masquerade in Washington," 31 Jan. 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

15 Nov 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).


to clear from alleged fault or guilt

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