rit·​u·​al | \ ˈri-chə-wəl, -chəl; ˈrich-wəl\

Definition of ritual

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : of or relating to rites or a ritual : ceremonial a ritual dance
2 : according to religious law ritual purity
3 : done in accordance with social custom or normal protocol ritual handshakes ritual background checks



Definition of ritual (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : the established form for a ceremony specifically : the order of words prescribed for a religious ceremony
2a : ritual observance specifically : a system of rites
b : a ceremonial act or action
c : an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner

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Other Words from ritual


ritually adverb

Examples of ritual in a Sentence


The priest will perform the ritual. He was buried simply, without ceremony or ritual. the daily ritual of preparing breakfast His day-to-day life is based on ritual.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

The charter insists that freedom of religion and conscience protects more than the inner beliefs of individuals and the ritual practices of communities. William A. Galston, WSJ, "Freedom of Belief Bridges America’s Divides," 11 Dec. 2018 Here, the officer has become a species of super villain with a connection to some mysterious, ritual power. Sharon Mizota, latimes.com, "Review: Police, violence and an artist who paints to provoke," 9 July 2018 Nothing quite ups the tawdry factor in an already seamy situation than these ritual apologies. Marcia Desanctis, Town & Country, "Mark Sanford, Act II," 14 Feb. 2013 This is ritual music, rewarding of patience and offering slowly unfolding and unexpected revelations. Larry Blumenfeld, WSJ, "‘Igbó Alákorin (The Singer’s Grove), Vol. I & II’ by David Virelles and ‘Pillars’ by Tyshawn Sorey Reviews," 29 Oct. 2018 Rather, her name seems to have become a punchline: an inside joke for a group of men whose bonds with one another were fostered by her ritual humiliation. Tara Isabella Burton, Vox, "Brett Kavanaugh and the hidden cost of male bonding," 26 Sep. 2018 This wave of ritual magic might just have something to do with everything else happening around everyone’s favorite fall holiday. Kelsea Stahler, Teen Vogue, "The Resurgence of Witches in Pop Culture Like Sabrina, AHS "Coven," and "Charmed" Reflects Women in the Real World," 14 Nov. 2018 Melissa Cradic, an excavation team member and expert on ancient funerary rites in the region, explains that two phases of ritual activity had occurred in the tomb. National Geographic, "Exclusive: Royal Burial in Ancient Canaan May Shed New Light on Biblical City," 13 Mar. 2018 The findings raise the possibility that the plants grown for ritual use might have played an important role in the region’s early forays into agriculture. Michael Price, Science | AAAS, "Americans have been lighting up for more than 3000 years, ancient pipe reveals," 15 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Plus, each ritual in the spa includes pre- or post-treatment tapas and a selection of organic teas, juices, or water infusions in their stunning Relaxation Library, complete with a fireplace. Ariel Okin, Vogue, "8 Romantic Winter Weekend Getaways From New York City," 29 Dec. 2018 Here's a timeline of the events that took an ancient ritual and turned it into a multi-billion dollar holiday celebrated around the world. Alexandra Owens, Town & Country, "The Surprisingly Dark Story of Valentine's Day," 18 Dec. 2018 If pagan rituals are your thing, this is probably a big moment for you. Brian Resnick, Vox, "The winter solstice is Friday: 8 things to know about the shortest day of the year," 18 Dec. 2018 In other species, ritual greetings seem to play a role in chilling-out tense moments. Cathleen O'grady, Ars Technica, "Some clues about why male Guinea baboons fondle each other’s genitals," 18 Nov. 2018 Instead, this darker, bloodier version of Sabrina Spellman’s antics introduces a world in which the misconception that witchcraft, paganism, and Wiccan rituals are about devil worship is indulged to create a brewing battle for ultimate control. Kelsea Stahler, Teen Vogue, "The Resurgence of Witches in Pop Culture Like Sabrina, AHS "Coven," and "Charmed" Reflects Women in the Real World," 14 Nov. 2018 Although sage bundles are the most familiar tools for smudging (with these rituals rooted in some indigenous cultures in the U.S.), any herb with associated healing properties—like bay leaf, lavender, or lemongrass—will do the trick. Alyssa Nassner, Curbed, "Cleansing 101: Keeping your home’s energy in check," 17 Oct. 2018 Continental carnage Lynchings typically follow the same ritual across Latin America. Samantha Pearson, WSJ, "In Latin America, Awash in Crime, Citizens Impose Their Own Brutal Justice," 6 Dec. 2018 The Hindu prayer ritual was also attended by the groom's brother, Joe Jonas, and Sophie Turner, with everyone wearing traditional Indian clothing. Amy Mackelden, Harper's BAZAAR, "Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas' Wedding Festivities Have Started with a Puja," 28 Nov. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ritual.' 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 ritual


1570, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1620, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for ritual


Latin ritualis, from ritus rite

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Statistics for ritual

Last Updated

14 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ritual

The first known use of ritual was in 1570

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More Definitions for ritual



English Language Learners Definition of ritual

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: done as part of a ceremony or ritual

: always done in a particular situation and in the same way each time



English Language Learners Definition of ritual (Entry 2 of 2)

: a formal ceremony or series of acts that is always performed in the same way

: an act or series of acts done in a particular situation and in the same way each time


rit·​u·​al | \ ˈri-chə-wəl \

Kids Definition of ritual

: a ceremony or series of acts that is always performed the same way


rit·​u·​al | \ ˈrich-(ə-)wəl \

Medical Definition of ritual

: any act or practice regularly repeated in a set precise manner for relief of anxiety obsessive-compulsive rituals

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Comments on ritual

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