ster·​ile | \ ˈster-əl How to pronounce sterile (audio) , 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

Other Words from sterile

sterilely \ ˈster-​ə(l)-​lē How to pronounce sterile (audio) , chiefly British  -​ˌī(-​ə)(l)-​lē \ adverb
sterility \ stə-​ˈri-​lə-​tē How to pronounce sterile (audio) \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for sterile



Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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 Novavax has faced challenges in sourcing sufficient quantities of raw materials – such as filters and sterile plastic bags used to grow vaccine cells – which has resulted in delays in the ramp-up of production capacity. Trefis Team, Forbes, 28 Dec. 2021 As the recent rise in mental illness attests, living in a sterile bubble carries its own risks. Paul Sisson, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Dec. 2021 As much as 50% of all sterile medical devices in the U.S. are treated with the gas, according to the federal government, which categorized the colorless gas as a cancer-causing agent in 2016. Brian Eason, ajc, 16 Dec. 2021 Had the safety car stayed out for one more lap, the race would have finished in sterile conditions, but Hamilton would have been world champion. Joshua Robinson, WSJ, 12 Dec. 2021 The typical process starts with taking a sterile swab from the kit and tracing the inside of each nostril several times. Jon Healey, Los Angeles Times, 16 Nov. 2021 Urine is sterile; the sink gets washed out afterward; and my hands are clean. Annie Lane, oregonlive, 14 Dec. 2021 Urine is sterile; the sink gets washed out afterward; and my hands are clean. cleveland, 14 Dec. 2021 And mules, which are sterile and cannot reproduce, served for centuries as the Western world’s preeminent draft animal — pulling plows and rattling farm machines, yes, but also transporting armies to war and wagon trains across the endless prairies., 1 Oct. 2021

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.

See More

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

Learn More About sterile

Time Traveler for sterile

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near sterile




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for sterile

Last Updated

3 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Sterile.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Jan. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

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 How to pronounce sterile (audio) \

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 How to pronounce sterile (audio) \ adverb
sterility \ stə-​ˈril-​ət-​ē How to pronounce sterile (audio) \ noun, plural sterilities

More from Merriam-Webster on sterile

Nglish: Translation of sterile for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sterile for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about sterile


Test Your Vocabulary

Farm Idioms Quiz

  • cow coming home
  • What does 'poke' refer to in the expression 'pig in a poke'?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!