smite

verb
\ ˈsmīt How to pronounce smite (audio) \
smote\ ˈsmōt How to pronounce smote (audio) \; smitten\ ˈsmi-​tᵊn How to pronounce smitten (audio) \ or smote; smiting\ ˈsmī-​tiŋ How to pronounce smiting (audio) \

Definition of smite

transitive verb

1 : to strike sharply or heavily especially with the hand or an implement held in the hand
2a : to kill or severely injure by smiting
b : to attack or afflict suddenly and injuriously smitten by disease
3 : to cause to strike
4 : to affect as if by striking children smitten with the fear of hell— V. L. Parrington
5 : captivate, take smitten with her beauty

intransitive verb

: to deliver or deal a blow with or as if with the hand or something held

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Other Words from smite

smiter \ ˈsmī-​tər How to pronounce smiter (audio) \ noun

On Smite, Smote, and Smitten

Smote is the past tense form of the verb smite, which is most frequently used to mean "to strike sharply or heavily especially with the hand or with something held in the hand," or "to kill or severely injure by striking in such a way." Smite has two past participle forms (the form used with have and be), smitten and smote, as in "a villain who was smitten/smote by a sword." The former is more common.

It's an old-fashioned word that most modern English users encounter only in literature, and especially in older translations of the Bible, such as the King James Version:

And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.
— Numbers 20:11

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David.
— 1 Samuel 17:50

And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzza, and he smote him, because he put his hand to the ark: and there he died before God.
— 1 Chronicles 13:10

And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
— Acts 12:23

The present tense form is found in the same kinds of contexts:

But if any man hate his neighbour, and lie in wait for him, and rise up against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth into one of these cities: Then the elders of his city shall send and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die.
— Deuteronomy 19:11-12

Smite comes from an Old English word meaning “to smear or defile,” and the meanings of the word continued to have negative connotations as the word moved from Old English to Middle English and on to Early Modern English. Most of its meanings over the centuries have had to do with striking, hitting, injuring, punishing, or afflicting someone. The following is a very partial list of the kinds of things people were getting smitten with in books in the first half of the 17th century: leprosy, death, the plague, blindness, fear, sorrow, remorse, a most stinking and vile disease, ulcers, boils, the sword, fiery darts from heaven, the pox, barrenness, angels, God’s displeasure/hand/scourges/rod/terrible thunderbolts/wrath.

It was clearly not a very good time to be smitten. But in the middle of the 17th century there began to be signs that getting smitten might not be so bad after all. The word smitten, that past participle form of smite, was taking on new meaning:

Me-thinks from utmost Inns of Court I see
Young Amorists smitten with Bellesa's look
Caught by the Gills, and fastned to your Book.
—Walter Montagu, The Shepheard’s Paradise, 1659

But smitten with love on sweet Jenny he gaz'd,
and beg'd on his knees that she there would remain….
—(Anon.), The Amorous Gallant, 1655

Around 1650, smitten began to refer not simply to being struck, but to being struck with affection or longing. This sense existed for hundreds of years alongside all the senses one would rather avoid. But the fact that smite had dissimilar meanings does not seem to have confused many people. (We have no evidence, for example, of an exchange like this: “I found myself smitten.” “Wait… do you mean you’re in love, or do you mean that God’s displeasure has rained fiery darts of leprosy from heaven upon you? Very confused here.”)

By the late 18th century, smitten was being used as a full-blown adjective with the meaning "deeply affected with or struck by strong feelings of attraction, affection, or infatuation." It continued (and continues still) to function as a past participle of smite, as does smote. Smote is, however, most often used as the past tense of smite.

In summary, we'll close with a short guide to the 21st century forms of smite:

You plan on inflicting dire and retributive punishment on someone: “I will smite you.”

A man has inflicted dire and retributive punishment on you: “He smote me.”

You are in love (or you have experienced a plague of frogs): “I have been smitten.”

Did You Know?

Smite has been part of the English language for a very long time; the earliest documented use in print dates to the 12th century. The word can be traced back to an Old English word meaning "to smear or defile" and is a distant relative of the Scottish word smit, meaning "to stain, contaminate, or infect." In addition to the straightforward "strike" and "attack" senses, smite also has a softer side. It can mean "to captivate or take"-a sense that is frequently used in the past participle in such contexts as "smitten by her beauty" or "smitten with him" (meaning "in love with him").

Examples of smite in a Sentence

He vowed that he would smite his enemy. Misfortune smote him and all his family. He smote the ball mightily.
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Recent Examples on the Web Native Pennsylvanian Burt Zwibel was discharged from the military in 1965 after serving as an army dentist near Arlington Cemetery; he was smitten by the history of the area and decided to become a Virginian by choice. Vern Parker, Houston Chronicle, "1965 Buick Riviera a terrific road car," 7 Feb. 2020 Emhoff was immediately smitten with Harris, and the feeling was mutual; the two later got hitched in a 2014 romantic courthouse ceremony presided by Harris' younger sister Maya, complete with the musical stylings of a cellist in the courtroom. Ineye Komonibo, Marie Claire, "Kamala Harris Husband, Douglas Emhoff, Is Her Number One Fan," 7 Oct. 2019 But she was smitten by Gibbons’s book about von Richthofen and completely hooked on flying after paying to ride as a passenger on a biplane at the state fair in Salem. Sam Roberts, New York Times, "Dorothy Olsen, a Pioneering Pilot in World War II, Dies at 103," 9 Aug. 2019 While stumbling through the pangs of adolescence and smitten by the smile of the town's leading teen queen (Vinessa Shaw), Max must fend off not only the resident bullies but save his sister and all the other kids from the furies of the witches. Duane Byrge, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Hocus Pocus': THR's 1993 Review," 16 July 2019 Reviewers are smitten with the product, as well as the seller’s stellar customer service and speedy shipping. Kelly Allen, House Beautiful, "This Wine Glass Makes It Seem Like There’s a Tiny Shark Swimming in Your Drink," 26 Dec. 2019 The Bruins are smitten with Studnicka, their second-round pick, No. 53, in the 2017 draft. BostonGlobe.com, "Jack Studnicka," 27 Nov. 2019 There’s no denying the internet is smitten with this kitten. Ashley Hoffman, Time, "'Touchdown!' Black Cat Who Ran Into End Zone During Monday Night Football Is Viral Purrfection," 5 Nov. 2019 But soon old Miles finds himself on the outside when everyone (including Kate) is smitten with the new Miles. Dan Snierson, EW.com, "Living With Yourself star Paul Rudd on giving himself mouth-to-mouth and that bonkers ending," 21 Oct. 2019

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

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at intransitive sense

History and Etymology for smite

Middle English, from Old English smītan to smear, defile; akin to Old High German bismīzan to defile

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Time Traveler for smite

Time Traveler

The first known use of smite was before the 12th century

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Last Updated

14 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Smite.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/smite. Accessed 20 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for smite

smite

verb
How to pronounce smite (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of smite

literary + old-fashioned
: to hurt, kill, or punish (someone or something)
: to hit (someone or something) very hard

smite

verb
\ ˈsmīt How to pronounce smite (audio) \
smote\ ˈsmōt \; smitten\ ˈsmi-​tᵊn \; smiting\ ˈsmī-​tiŋ \

Kids Definition of smite

1 : to strike hard especially with the hand or a weapon
2 : to kill or injure

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More from Merriam-Webster on smite

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for smite

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with smite

Spanish Central: Translation of smite

Nglish: Translation of smite for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of smite for Arabic Speakers

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