ser·​vi·​tude ˈsər-və-ˌtüd How to pronounce servitude (audio)
: a condition in which one lacks liberty especially to determine one's course of action or way of life
: a right by which something (such as a piece of land) owned by one person is subject to a specified use or enjoyment by another

Did you know?

Servitude is slavery or anything resembling it. The entire black population of colonial America lived in permanent servitude. And millions of the whites who populated this country arrived in "indentured servitude", obliged to pay off the cost of their journey with several years of labor. Servitude comes in many forms, of course: in the bad old days of the British navy, it was said that the difference between going to sea and going to jail was that you were less likely to drown in jail.

Examples of servitude in a Sentence

the Fugitive Slave Act had the effect of returning enslaved people who had made it to freedom in the North to a brutal life of servitude in the South
Recent Examples on the Web But opportunities for others to take the same path have narrowed since the pandemic, experts say – leaving untold numbers of North Korean girls and women trapped in servitude. Jessie Yeung, CNN, 8 Mar. 2024 Most nineteenth-century American women, whatever their race or wealth or state of servitude, were pregnant or nursing for decades. Jill Lepore, The New Yorker, 11 Mar. 2024 But such content also glosses over a fundamental truth: that for many women offline, patriarchal servitude is not an aesthetic performance, but their only option. Ej Dickson, Rolling Stone, 1 Mar. 2024 One of the initial bills calls for a formal apology from the state, another demands compensation for land seized in racist acts of eminent domain like Bruce’s Beach, and another would ban involuntary servitude, namely in prisons where inmates are often forced to do work for pennies an hour. Erika D. Smith, Los Angeles Times, 25 Feb. 2024 The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, but this searing documentary argues that both have only taken on different forms in the years since its adoption. Kevin Jacobsen and Diedre Johnson,, 20 Sep. 2023 Weight and Frost are facing multiple charges including assault on a minor, corruption of minors, involuntary servitude, strangulation, false imprisonment and child endangerment, according to online court records. Samira Asma-Sadeque, Peoplemag, 9 Feb. 2024 But politically, one of the changes that really stands out for me is that four states have changed their constitutions to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. Nick Tabor, Los Angeles Times, 5 Jan. 2024 California California lawmakers revive effort to ban involuntary servitude as punishment for crimes Feb. 27, 2023 Prison officials did not respond to questions about whether the proposal to increase wages is related to the discussion about removing involuntary servitude from the constitution. Anabel Sosa, Los Angeles Times, 26 Nov. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'servitude.' 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, "slavery, bondage, feudal allegiance," borrowed from Anglo-French & Late Latin; Anglo-French servitute, borrowed from Late Latin servitūdin-, servitūdō "condition of being a slave," from Latin servus "slave" + -i- -i- + -tūdin-, -tūdō -tude — more at serve entry 1

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of servitude was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near servitude

Cite this Entry

“Servitude.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


ser·​vi·​tude ˈsər-və-ˌt(y)üd How to pronounce servitude (audio)
: a condition in which one does not have the freedom to determine one's own life

Legal Definition


ser·​vi·​tude ˈsər-və-ˌtüd, -ˌtyüd How to pronounce servitude (audio)
: a condition in which an individual lacks liberty especially to determine his or her course of action or way of life
specifically : the state of being a slave
involuntary servitude
: a right by which property owned by one person is subject to a specified use or enjoyment of another
used chiefly in the civil law of Louisiana
see also dominant estate and servient estate at estate sense 4 compare easement
apparent servitude
: a predial servitude whose existence is perceivable by exterior signs or works (as an aqueduct or road) on the property
legal servitude
: a predial servitude that is created by a limitation under the law on the use of the property
natural servitude
: a predial servitude that arises from the situation of the estates (as from one being situated downhill from another)
personal servitude
: a servitude that burdens property in favor of a specific named person see also right of use, usufruct
predial servitude
: a servitude that burdens one item of immovable property (as a tract of land) in favor of another

Note: A predial servitude is transferred along with the ownership of the dominant estate, and the servient estate is always taken subject to the servitude. A predial servitude cannot be transferred separately from the dominant estate.

More from Merriam-Webster on servitude

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!