ster·ile | \ ˈster-əl , chiefly British -ˌī(-ə)l \

Definition of sterile 

1a : failing to bear or incapable of producing fruit or spores

b : failing to produce or incapable of producing offspring a sterile hybrid

c : incapable of germinating sterile spores

d of a flower : neither perfect nor pistillate

2a : unproductive of vegetation a sterile arid region

b : free from living organisms and especially pathogenic microorganisms a sterile syringe

c : lacking in stimulating emotional or intellectual quality : lifeless a sterile work of art

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Other words from sterile

sterilely \ˈster-ə(l)-lē, chiefly British-ˌī(-ə)(l)-lē \ adverb
sterility \stə-ˈri-lə-tē \ noun

Examples of sterile in a Sentence

a sterile dressing for a wound sterile couples sometimes choose to adopt needy children

Recent Examples on the Web

The rodents are part of a study to determine how living on a sterile ship in the dark vacuum of space alters circadian rhythms—and potentially disrupts a healthy microbiome. Megan Molteni, WIRED, "NASA's Astro-Mice Will Test What Space Does to Your Gut," 28 June 2018 The story concerns an Italian movie director who finds himself at a sterile period artistically. James Powers, The Hollywood Reporter, "'8 ½': THR's 1963 Review," 26 June 2018 But the sterile flowers each bear four large, showy, white sepals making an individual flower from 1/2-inch to 1-inch across. Paul Cappiello, The Courier-Journal, "Why this Kentucky plant is the 'Manolo Blahniks' of the garden world," 22 June 2018 But the MiniBooNE sterile neutrino lacks the heft for these purposes. Natalie Wolchover, Washington Post, "Evidence for a new fundamental particle thrills and baffles physicists," 18 June 2018 But several of their explanations focus on a proposed additional type of neutrino, called a sterile neutrino. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "Weird neutrino excess won’t go away, hints at new physics," 8 June 2018 The Standard Model would be updated to include some sort of sterile neutrino. NBC News, "A major physics experiment just detected a particle that shouldn't exist," 3 June 2018 There’s something about the overripe, cloying oppression of the Floridian climate that brings a magical realism to Groff’s work, a connection with nature that makes her departures from the state more sterile. Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic, "Florida, Full of Dread," 14 June 2018 They are separated from the slightly less sterile areas by windows streaked with disinfectant. Erika Fry, Fortune, "Critical Condition: Inside Pfizer’s Drug Supply Problem," 22 May 2018

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

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for sterile

Middle English steryle, from Latin sterilis; akin to Goth stairo barren animal, Sanskrit starī sterile cow

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Statistics for sterile

Last Updated

18 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for sterile

The first known use of sterile was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for sterile



English Language Learners Definition of sterile

: not able to produce crops or plants

: not able to produce children, young animals, etc.

: not able to grow or develop


ster·ile | \ ˈster-əl \

Kids Definition of sterile

1 : not able to produce fruit, crops, or offspring : not fertile sterile soil

2 : free from living germs a sterile bandage


ster·ile | \ ˈster-əl, chiefly British -ˌīl \

Medical Definition of sterile 

1 : failing to produce or incapable of producing offspring a sterile hybrid — compare infertile

2 : free from living organisms and especially microorganisms a sterile syringe a sterile cyst

Other words from sterile

sterilely \-əl-(l)ē \ adverb
sterility \stə-ˈril-ət-ē \ noun plural -ties

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Comments on sterile

What made you want to look up sterile? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


the setting in which something occurs

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