sen·​ten·​tious sen-ˈten(t)-shəs How to pronounce sententious (audio)
: given to or abounding in aphoristic expression
: given to or abounding in excessive moralizing
: terse, aphoristic, or moralistic in expression : pithy, epigrammatic
sententiously adverb
sententiousness noun

Did you know?

Nowadays, "sententious" is usually uncomplimentary, implying banality, oversimplification, and excessive moralizing. But that hasn't always been the case, nor is it universally so even now. The original Middle English sense of "sententious" was "full of meaning," a meaning adopted from Latin sententiosus (from sententia, meaning "sentence" or "maxim"). In Modern English, too, "sententious" has sometimes referred to what is full of significance and expressed tersely. Or sometimes "sententious" simply suggests an affinity for aphorisms, as when it refers to the likes of Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard (of almanac fame), the homespun philosopher given to such statements as "early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

Examples of sententious in a Sentence

a smug and sententious writer a sententious crank who has written countless letters to the editor about the decline in family values
Recent Examples on the Web Only the vivid image of the warped planks keeps this remark from being the type of sententious counsel that Polonius might have given his son. Nikhil Krishnan, The New Yorker, 26 June 2023 Without the wit inherent in an epigram, a sententious formulation becomes a mere adage, aphorism, apothegm, gnome, maxim, or saw. Bryan A. Garner, National Review, 15 Sep. 2022 Instead each event—from lethal accidents to vicious murders to Category 5 hurricanes—is immediately sorted into its prelabeled moral narrative file, each one full of similarly useful sententious parables. Gerard Baker, WSJ, 30 May 2022 Dialogue is rendered in the pseudo-profound pronouncements that have become the sententious lingua franca of the hero’s quest. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 21 Apr. 2022 This melodramatic narrative fits right into American indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s domain, but Francis Lee is a less sententious proselytizer for gay life. Armond White, National Review, 13 Nov. 2020 These are the sententious keynote presentations, used to dazzle investors or recruit employees, that try to get a startup to seem like a holy mission. Wired, 22 Oct. 2019 What’s more, Charles’s sententious interpretation of noblesse oblige leaves him open to the charge of overstepping the constitutional boundaries of his position. Zoë Heller, The New Yorker, 31 Mar. 2017 See More

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

Word History


Middle English, full of meaning, from Latin sententiosus, from sententia sentence, maxim

First Known Use

1509, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of sententious was in 1509


Dictionary Entries Near sententious

Cite this Entry

“Sententious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


sen·​ten·​tious sen-ˈten-chəs How to pronounce sententious (audio)
: containing or using phrases which sound more important than they are
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