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

The end result of this undertaking is a decidedly feminine pied a terre, but one that can also effortlessly host large family gatherings without pretense. Steven Stolman, Town & Country, "Inside the Newly Renovated Home of a San Francisco Sophisticate," 19 Nov. 2018 Black and white musicians—male and female, old and young—stood shoulder to shoulder without pretense or any suggestion of cliques. Marc Myers, WSJ, "A Great Day in Harlem, Revisited," 2 Nov. 2018 My goal is to create spaces that look great without pretense and are super-comfortable. Lisa Cregan, House Beautiful, "Nathan Turner and Eric Stonestreet on Creating a Casual California Home," 21 Oct. 2014 Some drivers swing through just to hit the restroom, head back to their cabs without even the pretense of a purchase. Cnt Editors, Condé Nast Traveler, "Loud, Crowded, Grease-Stained, and Gloriously Drunk: Where the World Eats After Hours," 8 Oct. 2018 No pretense that a ballpark open for two decades is too old. Bill Shaikin,, "Three up, three down: Son of Vlad is off to a big start; Indians bullpen is not," 26 May 2018 In that case, police were called to a Kansas man’s home on a false pretense, apparently following a dispute over a Call of Duty game, and the man was shot after answering the door. Colin Lecher, The Verge, "Swatter indicted in Kansas gamer’s death also accused of net neutrality vote bomb threat," 24 May 2018 Although teachers are angry that someone would enter a school under false pretenses, the local prosecutor for municipal court decided that charges were not warranted. Patrick O'donnell,, "Ohio teachers say Project Veritas targeting them with undercover videotape stings," 7 May 2018 McCollum was charged with six counts of involuntary servitude with a child victim, three counts of conspiracy, nine counts of obtaining property by false pretense, and one count each of falsifying documents and continuing a criminal enterprise. Chris Harris,, "N.C. Religious Leader Allegedly Forced Children to Work in Fish Markets For No Pay," 11 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

27 Dec 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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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

Comments on pretense

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tremendous in size, volume, or degree

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