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so·​ber ˈsō-bər How to pronounce sober (audio)
: not intoxicated
He's a half-decent guy when he's sober, but when he's drunk, he's just not accountable for what he does, and he spends a lot of time drunk.Stephen King
: abstaining from drinking alcohol or taking intoxicating drugs : refraining from the use of addictive substances (see substance sense 3c)
Blossom learns that life isn't always rosy, especially for recovering substance abusers, when she discovers her brother Anthony—clean and sober for two years—wilting when he's tempted by a liquor bottle.TV Guide
: sparing in the use of food and drink : abstemious
He was a large, saturnine man, … comparatively sober in his habits, as people must be who make money out of other people's vices.Dorothy L. Sayers
: marked by sedate or gravely or earnestly thoughtful character or demeanor
: marked by temperance, moderation, or seriousness
a sober candlelight vigil
: subdued in tone or color
: showing no excessive or extreme qualities of fancy, emotion, or prejudice
soberly adverb
soberness noun


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sobered; sobering ˈsō-b(ə-)riŋ How to pronounce sober (audio)

transitive verb

: to make sober

intransitive verb

: to become sober
usually used with up
Choose the Right Synonym for sober

serious, grave, solemn, sedate, staid, sober, earnest mean not light or frivolous.

serious implies a concern for what really matters.

a serious play about social injustice

grave implies both seriousness and dignity in expression or attitude.

read the proclamation in a grave voice

solemn suggests an impressive gravity utterly free from levity.

a sad and solemn occasion

sedate implies a composed and decorous seriousness.

remained sedate amid the commotion

staid suggests a settled, accustomed sedateness and prim self-restraint.

a quiet and staid community

sober stresses seriousness of purpose and absence of levity or frivolity.

a sober look at the state of our schools

earnest suggests sincerity or often zealousness of purpose.

an earnest reformer

Examples of sober in a Sentence

Adjective I'm driving, so I have to stay sober tonight. He is a sober, hardworking farmer. The story is a sober look at drug abuse. Illness is a sober reminder of our mortality. The article is a sober reflection on the state of our nation. Verb He returned home from the war, saddened and sobered by his experiences. See More
Recent Examples on the Web
The sensitive subject sends Kyle over the edge and begins to avidly defend her new lifestyle changes as the housewives express concern over her workout habits and decision to be sober. Esther Kang, Peoplemag, 23 Nov. 2023 Almost every nonsensical line Mitchell utters is followed by a sober explanation from Thompson, suggesting the writers don’t trust the audience to get the obvious jokes. Murtada Elfadl, Variety, 23 Nov. 2023 According to interviews with activists, former patients and Arizona officials, the small staffs who ran the homes made little effort to help people stay sober, and in some cases fostered their addiction. Jack Healy, New York Times, 11 Nov. 2023 What helps people stay sober In fact, the most successful approaches for helping people dealing with stimulant addiction so far have centered around behavioral interventions, rather than medications, Hadland said. Berkeley Lovelace Jr., NBC News, 7 Nov. 2023 Ellingson’s father reportedly spoke to TMZ, explaining that his son was in a sober living home. Vulture, 7 Nov. 2023 In fact, the post allegedly prompted Spelling to encourage her now-ex, who is currently sober, to seek treatment. Esther Kang, Peoplemag, 16 Nov. 2023 Clements has been sober for decades while in prison, according to attorneys. Jasmine Hilton, Washington Post, 14 Nov. 2023 Now, the industry will return to work in a much more sober marketplace for content spending. Cynthia Littleton, Variety, 9 Nov. 2023
The subsequent weeks and months became a haze of international bureaucracy, exasperating medical tests and sobering soul-searching as the stroke resulted in an aggressive form of dementia and Bahr became a globe-trotting caregiver. Thomas Floyd, Washington Post, 8 Nov. 2023 To keep China attuned to and sobered by that potential outcome, Washington must sustain and deepen coordination with as broad a coalition of countries as possible, not just advanced democracies in Europe and Asia. Ryan Hass, Foreign Affairs, 24 Oct. 2023 Learning from defeat and victory War sobers a people. Ronald Suny, The Conversation, 3 Oct. 2023 There was, however, one sobering, bracing dose of reality: Ravi. Karan Mahajan, The New Yorker, 7 Aug. 2023 Lincoln avoids layoffs by following a unique, decades-old system that requires sobering sacrifices by employees and the company, each making promises to the other that require mutual trust. Geoff Colvin, Fortune, 19 July 2023 Those numbers are sobering for anyone hoping that a wave of customer demand is going to force airlines and cruise companies to cut their emissions. Time, 22 June 2023 The new post-covid, always-streaming realities of documentary production and exhibition are both sobering and clarifying, according to Deirdre Haj, executive director of Omaha’s nonprofit venue Film Streams. Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, 16 June 2023 There are sobering questions about what teachers can accomplish and how likely students are to do well in the circumstances in their classrooms, no matter what approach to teaching is used. Alan J. Borsuk, Journal Sentinel, 7 June 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sober.' 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 sobre, from Anglo-French, from Latin sobrius; akin to Latin ebrius drunk

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1c


14th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

Time Traveler
The first known use of sober was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near sober

Cite this Entry

“Sober.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
so·​ber ˈsō-bər How to pronounce sober (audio)
soberer -bər-ər How to pronounce sober (audio) ; soberest -b(ə-)rəst How to pronounce sober (audio)
: sparing especially in the use of food and drink
: not drunk
: having a serious attitude : solemn
: having a quiet tone or color
: well reasoned and balanced
a sober decision
soberly adverb
soberness noun


2 of 2 verb
sobered; sobering -b(ə-)riŋ How to pronounce sober (audio)
: to make or become sober

More from Merriam-Webster on sober

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