pre·​text ˈprē-ˌtekst How to pronounce pretext (audio)
: a purpose or motive alleged or an appearance assumed in order to cloak the real intention or state of affairs
Choose the Right Synonym for pretext

apology, apologia, excuse, plea, pretext, alibi mean matter offered in explanation or defense.

apology usually applies to an expression of regret for a mistake or wrong with implied admission of guilt or fault and with or without reference to mitigating or extenuating circumstances.

said by way of apology that he would have met them if he could

apologia implies not admission of guilt or regret but a desire to make clear the grounds for some course, belief, or position.

his speech was an apologia for his foreign policy

excuse implies an intent to avoid or remove blame or censure.

used illness as an excuse for missing the meeting

plea stresses argument or appeal for understanding or sympathy or mercy.

her usual plea that she was nearsighted

pretext suggests subterfuge and the offering of false reasons or motives in excuse or explanation.

used any pretext to get out of work

alibi implies a desire to shift blame or evade punishment and imputes mere plausibility to the explanation.

his alibi failed to stand scrutiny

Example Sentences

She went back to her friend's house on the pretext that she had forgotten her purse.
Recent Examples on the Web Holiday’s drug use is a pretext for both the F.B.I. and Daniels. Wesley Morris, New York Times, 12 Oct. 2022 Such claims could be used as a pretext for escalating the war. John Bacon, USA TODAY, 2 Nov. 2022 The United States, France and Britain have accused Moscow of using allegations of a dirty bomb as a pretext for escalation. Erin Cunningham, Washington Post, 25 Oct. 2022 This is widely seen as a pretext for intensifying brutality to try to force Ukraine to capitulate, including potential new missile attacks on major cities and key civilian infrastructure. Robyn Dixon, Anchorage Daily News, 3 Oct. 2022 In the summer of 2020, under the pretext of probing an actor’s suicide, federal authorities launched an investigation into the drug habits of some of Mumbai’s most famous stars. Samanth Subramanian, The New Yorker, 10 Oct. 2022 At best, the referenda may offer a pretext to a wider Russian mobilization and the case that the war is now being fought on Russian territory -- thus justifying the new reservist push and their inevitable sacrifice. James Nixey, CNN, 23 Sep. 2022 The Kremlin has said that Russia needed to be certain the turbine wasn’t sanctioned and wouldn’t be turned off remotely under the pretext of sanctions. Georgi Kantchev, WSJ, 19 Aug. 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine in February this year under the pretext of protecting the Russian speaking population in the country, among other justifications proclaimed by Russian officials as the invasion unfolded. Natalya Kushnir, ABC News, 27 July 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'pretext.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Latin praetextus, from praetexere to assign as a pretext, screen, extend in front, from prae- + texere to weave — more at technical

First Known Use

circa 1538, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of pretext was circa 1538

Dictionary Entries Near pretext

Cite this Entry

“Pretext.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition



pre·​text ˈprē-ˌtekst How to pronounce pretext (audio)
: a reason put forward in order to hide the real reason
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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