pre·​ten·​tious pri-ˈten(t)-shəs How to pronounce pretentious (audio)
: characterized by pretension: such as
: making usually unjustified or excessive claims (as of value or standing)
the pretentious fraud who assumes a love of culture that is alien to himRichard Watts
: expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature
pretentious language
pretentious houses
: making demands on one's skill, ability, or means : ambitious
the pretentious daring of the Green Mountain Boys in crossing the lakeAmer. Guide Series: Vt.
pretentiously adverb
pretentiousness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for pretentious

showy, pretentious, ostentatious mean given to excessive outward display.

showy implies an imposing or striking appearance but usually suggests cheapness or poor taste.

the performers' showy costumes

pretentious implies an appearance of importance not justified by the thing's value or the person's standing.

a pretentious parade of hard words

ostentatious stresses vainglorious display or parade.

the ostentatious summer homes of the rich

Examples of pretentious in a Sentence

It is hard to be pretentious or elevated in Yiddish, and easy to poke fun. Cynthia Ozick, New Yorker, 28 Mar. 1988
To anyone ignorant of the underlying physics, it might seem the most arrogant and pretentious necromancy. Carl Sagan, Contact, 1985
She seemed at that first meeting a little pretentious and a would-be intellectual—she was studying sociology in the States, a subject which thrives on banalities and abstract jargon … Graham Greene, Getting to Know the General, 1984
… and then a P.S. running into 20 pages both sides of the paper and coming back to the top of page one—Hegel, Nietzsche, Emerson, Gide, Beethoven, Suarez—all the boys trotted out in reams of pretentious blather. Myles na gCopaleen (Flann O'Brien), The Best of Myles, 1968
The houses in the neighborhood are large and pretentious. that pretentious couple always serves caviar at their parties, even though they themselves dislike it See More
Recent Examples on the Web Red Footwear Is in for Spring By Laura Jackson A murder occurs during a relaxing weekend at a hunting estate; each person in the pretentious group gathered becomes a suspect. Radhika Seth, Vogue, 22 Feb. 2024 Describing the warm, fuzzy optimism of an Idles record requires only the most pretentious adjectives — ebullience, exultation, jubilation — words that Idles frontman Joe Talbot would likely laugh at heartily before offering a pint to anyone who said them. Kory Grow, Rolling Stone, 15 Feb. 2024 This is all sorts of pretentious wannabee art-house nonsense at this point. Erik Kain, Forbes, 9 Feb. 2024 Yes, Baltimore is officially the penultimate stop on the road to Super Bowl LVIII (that’s 58 for those of you non-fluent in pretentious Roman numerals). Baltimore Sun Editorial Board, Baltimore Sun, 22 Jan. 2024 With an all-white aesthetic, live music and tables right on the sand, the club feels cool without coming off too pretentious. Anna Haines, Forbes, 13 Feb. 2024 The sometimes pretentious statements made by Dodin, who’s based on a number of real-life gourmands from the era, and his fellow gastro-nerds, also communicate a bond between them. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 9 Feb. 2024 For all that, coffee at 1900 Barker is hardly pretentious. Anne Brockhoff, Kansas City Star, 30 Jan. 2024 Going into the scary, adversarial world of standup and being extra vulgar, and, like, pretentious . . . Carrie Battan, The New Yorker, 15 Jan. 2024 See More

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

Word History


French prétentieux, from prétention pretension, from Medieval Latin pretention-, pretentio, from Latin praetendere

First Known Use

1832, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of pretentious was in 1832

Dictionary Entries Near pretentious

Cite this Entry

“Pretentious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


pre·​ten·​tious pri-ˈten-chəs How to pronounce pretentious (audio)
: appearing or trying to appear more important or more valuable than is the case
pretentiously adverb
pretentiousness noun

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