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

Moreover, the pretense of mutual exclusivity decreases public understanding of our nation’s current hybrid system, which simultaneously includes commercial, non-profit, and government insurers. Ann Mongoven, The Mercury News, "Opinion: Democratic debates show need for clear language on health care reform," 7 July 2019 Those policies all served as pretense for continual police surveillance and frequent raids. Sidney Fussell, The Atlantic, "How Stonewall Reversed a Long History of Justifying Police Surveillance," 29 June 2019 The charges against Orr and the other defendants include money laundering, auto theft, grand theft and theft by false pretenses. San Diego Union-Tribune, "County authorities charge 21 people in complex fraud schemes that netted $5M," 20 June 2019 Those are just pretenses to the real draw of this restaurant, which lies in the way the staff can make the whole counter laugh along with them. Soleil Ho,, "Shota takes the stodgy out of omakase dining," 20 June 2019 This Valentine's Day, why not give up all pretense and just lounge in a turban and some gam-erasing harem pants? Veronique Hyland, Harper's BAZAAR, "Man Repelling With Rachel Roy This Valentine's Day," 25 Jan. 2011 People will continue their negative stereotypes as long as the pretense of these families not existing or being more dysfunctional than traditional families is promoted. Jeneé Osterheldt, kansascity, "Cheerios ad brings on the nuts," 1 June 2013 There’s no pretense of spontaneity here; the posing is deliberate and at times surreal. Laird Borrelli-persson, Vogue, "“It’s Called Ffasiwn” Is a Photography Exhibition That Challenges Assumptions About Status and Style," 25 Mar. 2019 There’s also no pretense here, just affordable mezcal and a few snacks. Scarlett Lindeman, Condé Nast Traveler, "20 Best Bars in Mexico City," 27 Feb. 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

12 Jul 2019

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
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

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).


something desired as essential

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