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

Load your pot with a sterile potting mix, or try this one from V. J. Billings, owner of Mountain Valley Growers organic nursery: Mix approximately 60% peat moss with 40% perlite, with a couple of handfuls of homemade compost thrown in. Therese Ciesinski, Good Housekeeping, "How to Grow Lavender Anywhere — Even Indoors," 9 Aug. 2018 Cut to Offred pumping breast milk into mostly empty bottles in the gray, sterile light of a empty Red Center dorm hall under the supervision of several Aunts. Rena Gross, Billboard, "'The Handmaid's Tale' Season 2, Episode 12 Recap: 15 Reactions to 'Postpartum'," 4 July 2018 In bumblebee colonies, sterile female offspring forage, bring in food for the nest, clean and help rear the brood. Joanna Klein, New York Times, "Bumblebees Thrive in the City but Struggle on the Farm," 27 June 2018 Indeed, the sites also provide sterile equipment (including clean syringes) to prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV, hepatitis C, and other infections. Tessie Castillo, SELF, "Here’s What Supervised Consumption Sites for Drug Users Actually Are," 9 May 2018 The exchange program outside Mercy Health Clermont in Batavia is ongoing, offering sterile injection equipment and access to testing and other health care from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Thursday. Terry Demio,, "No condoms at needle exchange on Mercy Health grounds after all," 11 Apr. 2018 In contrast, a 25-minute essay completed under duress in a sterile testing center exposes one’s thinking and writing ability. WSJ, "Make Students Prove Their Writing Skills," 12 July 2018 The atmosphere at the directorate is more sterile than a U.S. gun store or pawnshop. Kate Linthicum,, "There is only one gun store in all of Mexico. So why is gun violence soaring?," 24 May 2018 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

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

13 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for sterile

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

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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

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playful or foolish behavior

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