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

Examples of pretext in a Sentence

She went back to her friend's house on the pretext that she had forgotten her purse.
Recent Examples on the Web But free press advocates say his vow to keep reporters honest is a pretext to intimidate his critics. Max Kim, Los Angeles Times, 8 Apr. 2024 The rebels, led by Mr. Kagame, said the Hutu extremists downed the plane as a pretext for genocide. Abdi Latif Dahir, New York Times, 7 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for pretext 

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

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 18 May. 2024.

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
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!