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pre·​ten·​sion pri-ˈten(t)-shən How to pronounce pretension (audio)
: an allegation of doubtful value : pretext
: a claim or an effort to establish a claim
: a claim or right to attention or honor because of merit
: an aspiration or intention that may or may not reach fulfillment
has serious literary pretensions
pretensionless adjective


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pre·​ten·​sion ˌprē-ˈten(t)-shən How to pronounce pretension (audio)
pretensioned; pretensioning; pretensions
Choose the Right Synonym for pretension

ambition, aspiration, pretension mean strong desire for advancement.

ambition applies to the desire for personal advancement or preferment and may suggest equally a praiseworthy or an inordinate desire.

driven by ambition

aspiration implies a striving after something higher than oneself.

an aspiration to become president someday

pretension suggests ardent desire for recognition of accomplishment often without actual possession of the necessary ability and therefore may imply presumption.

has literary pretensions

Examples of pretension in a Sentence

Noun He spoke about his achievements without pretension. I admire his honesty and lack of pretension. The restaurant offers excellent food without pretension.
Recent Examples on the Web
The black-and-white cinematography and the heavy-handed allusions to Caravaggio—another killer on the run in Italy, albeit several centuries prior—only intensify the pretension. The New Yorker, 5 Apr. 2024 Such peculiarities, alongside a focus on a single leader with divine pretensions and an aggressive harvesting of money, have fed accusations that the Unification Church is a cult. TIME, 4 Apr. 2024 The ride of a sedan also tends to be more luxurious and better controlled too, because they’re not saddled with off-road pretensions or large tires. Kyle Hyatt, Robb Report, 27 Mar. 2024 But the fact that the latter did and the former did not tells us something: Intellectual pretension is acceptable in our awards vehicles; emotional pretension far less so. Vulture, 3 Feb. 2024 Hollywood skewering Hollywood doesn't always play as intended, but this action comedy is audacious in portraying the pretensions of show business. Andrew Walsh,, 27 Nov. 2023 Odd Duck was chosen because of its longtime dedication to serving an ever-evolving menu of elevated, globally inspired dishes with beautiful presentation but never pretension. Rachel Bernhard, Journal Sentinel, 15 Feb. 2024 But the only party in the alliance with pretensions to being a national party is the Congress. Ramachandra Guha, Foreign Affairs, 20 Feb. 2024 His journey of self-discovery prods at questions of artistry and acclaim, with gossips and pretension running amok as Léon wavers between the anxiety and undeniable glow of the spotlight. Ew Staff,, 13 Sep. 2023

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

Word History



pre- + tension entry 2

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1936, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near pretension

Cite this Entry

“Pretension.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


: something one hopes to reach : aspiration, ambition
has serious pretensions as a writer

More from Merriam-Webster on pretension

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