pre·​tense ˈprē-ˌten(t)s How to pronounce pretense (audio)
variants or pretence
: a claim made or implied
especially : one not supported by fact
: mere ostentation : pretentiousness
confuse dignity with pomposity and pretenseBennett Cerf
: a pretentious act or assertion
: an inadequate or insincere attempt to attain a certain condition or quality
: professed rather than real intention or purpose : pretext
was there under false pretenses
: false show : simulation
saw through his pretense of indifference

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 Lured to the Washington, D.C., area on the pretense of a training junket, he was arrested and charged with federal drug crimes before agreeing to cooperate, officials said. Tim Golden, ProPublica, 31 Jan. 2024 One count of false pretenses — more than $20,000 but less than $50,000 — a 15-year felony. Arpan Lobo, Detroit Free Press, 3 Jan. 2024 There is not even the pretense of democracy there; citizens have no right to dissent or elect their leaders. Bernie Sanders, Foreign Affairs, 18 Mar. 2024 The former President, who famously used his office’s authority to unilaterally slap import duties on foreign steel under the pretense of national security, is notoriously tough on China. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, 1 Mar. 2024 Oh yes, the other co-author tried a similar bill two years ago, without even the pretense of democracy, and just failed. Stefan Bean, Orange County Register, 12 Feb. 2024 In June, prosecutors charged him with a third felony — obtaining money, labor or property by false pretenses. Jakob Rodgers, The Mercury News, 7 Mar. 2024 Fans willing to overlook the obvious vapidity of director Rob Reiner, a hostile Democrat-progressive zealot, prove that some conservatives are bamboozled by liberalism’s kindly pretense. Armond White, National Review, 21 Feb. 2024 Our misguided nation-building efforts in Vietnam and Afghanistan, and our invasion of Iraq based on the false pretense of WMDs, all underscore a lacking sense of purpose. TIME, 13 Feb. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'pretense.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near pretense

Cite this Entry

“Pretense.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


variants or pretence
: a claim usually not supported by facts
: the quality or state of being pretentious
free from pretense
: an effort to reach a certain condition or quality
let's have some pretense of order around here
the book makes no pretense at completeness
: a pretended purpose
was there under false pretenses
: a false show : simulation
a pretense of indifference

More from Merriam-Webster on pretense

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