\ ˈstərn How to pronounce stern (audio) \

Definition of stern

 (Entry 1 of 4)

1a : having a definite hardness or severity of nature or manner : austere
b : expressive of severe displeasure : harsh
2 : forbidding or gloomy in appearance
3 : inexorable stern necessity
4 : sturdy, stout a stern resolve



Definition of stern (Entry 2 of 4)

1 : the rear end of a boat
2 : a hinder or rear part : the last or latter part


biographical name (1)
\ ˈstərn How to pronounce Stern (audio) \

Definition of Stern (Entry 3 of 4)

Isaac 1920–2001 American (Russian-born) violinist


biographical name (2)

Definition of Stern (Entry 4 of 4)

Otto 1888–1969 American (German-born) physicist

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from stern


sternly adverb
sternness \ ˈstərn-​nəs How to pronounce sternness (audio) \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for stern


severe, stern, austere, ascetic mean given to or marked by strict discipline and firm restraint. severe implies standards enforced without indulgence or laxity and may suggest harshness. severe military discipline stern stresses inflexibility and inexorability of temper or character. stern arbiters of public morality austere stresses absence of warmth, color, or feeling and may apply to rigorous restraint, simplicity, or self-denial. living an austere life in the country ascetic implies abstention from pleasure and comfort or self-indulgence as spiritual discipline. the ascetic life of the monks

Examples of stern in a Sentence

Adjective He gave me a stern look. the army post's stern commander always had the utmost respect of those who served under him
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The judge kept the bail conditions, but issued a stern warning about Weinstein’s cellphone use. Jan Ransom,, "Weinstein threatened with jail for using phone again in court," 7 Jan. 2020 A month after Duarte died, though, the state Health Department issued a stern warning to state emergency medical service providers., "You're using a browser set to private or incognito mode.," 3 Dec. 2019 A month after Duarte died, though, the state Health Department issued a stern warning to state emergency medical service providers. Lynn Arditi, ProPublica, "EMS Crews Brought Patients to the Hospital With Misplaced Breathing Tubes. None of Them Survived.," 3 Dec. 2019 But the admonition appeared less a stern rebuke than a sarcastic joke between friends, one that provoked laughter in the room. Eli Stokols,, "‘Don’t meddle in the election,’ Trump tells Putin with a smile," 28 June 2019 Moye issued stern rebukes to all of them at one point or another, often for interruptions or statements deemed inappropriate. Sarah Sarder, Dallas News, "Days after fatal South Dallas shootout, judge grants temporary restraining order on Jim's Car Wash," 6 June 2019 Turkey received delivery of the Russian weapons system this year, despite stern U.S. warnings against such a move. Michael Collins, USA TODAY, "'A particularly inappropriate time': Trump welcomes Turkey's Erdogan despite Syria attack," 13 Nov. 2019 Prosecutors have given a stern warning to the parents still fighting back: plead guilty or prepare to face new bribery charges — which could add years to a potential sentence. CBS News, "Lori Loughlin and other parents hit with new charges in college admissions scam," 22 Oct. 2019 McConnell weighed in on another issue Monday, offering a stern warning against abandoning Syrian Kurds who fought the Islamic State group with U.S. troops. Bruce Schreiner, San Diego Union-Tribune, "McConnell largely avoids impeachment talk while back home," 7 Oct. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The funeral chamber itself was in the stern, constructed from wood that has been dated to A.D. 834. National Geographic, "," 30 Dec. 2019 Grayback was found in two pieces on the bottom of the ocean, with the front end broken off from the rest of the submarine and a large hole in the stern. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "Lost World War II Submarine Rediscovered 75 Years Later," 12 Nov. 2019 Winches whined as the hangar rolled back, and the sub was moved along tracks and then out of its cradle, pinning it against a bumper at the stern of the ship. Susan Casey, Outside Online, "One Man's Wild Quest to Reach the Bottom of Every Ocean," 22 Oct. 2019 Pedals are connected to a drivetrain that turns a paddlewheel in the stern. Lauren Daley,, "Cycling on the water with beer? It’s real, and it’s in Boston," 20 Aug. 2019 Apple Decades of high school English classes inscribed in the popular imagination a vision of Emily Dickinson as a stern, asexual recluse. Judy Berman, Time, "The Best New TV Characters of 2019," 6 Dec. 2019 The fore and aft sterns, however, appear to have been destroyed by plowing, and the ship is thought to have once been up 56 feet long. Fox News, "Mysterious 1,000-year-old Viking ship discovered on Norwegian island," 26 Nov. 2019 One of those coffins landed on the stern of the first wreck, smashing the timbers beneath it. Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica, "400-year-old warships in Swedish channel may be sisters of doomed Vasa," 20 Nov. 2019 Carlos and Willy sat in the stern, next to the outboard motor. Nell Zink, Harper's magazine, "The Bird Angle," 28 Oct. 2019

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


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for stern


Middle English sterne, from Old English styrne; akin to Old English starian to stare — more at stare


Middle English, rudder, probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse stjōrn steering, rudder; akin to Old English stīeran to steer — more at steer

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about stern

Time Traveler for stern

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for stern

Last Updated

17 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Stern.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 26 January 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for stern


How to pronounce Stern (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of stern

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: very serious especially in an unfriendly way
: expressing strong disapproval or criticism
: not likely to change or become weaker



English Language Learners Definition of stern (Entry 2 of 2)

: the back part of a boat or ship


\ ˈstərn How to pronounce stern (audio) \
sterner; sternest

Kids Definition of stern

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : hard and severe in nature or manner : very strict and serious a stern judge a stern warning
2 : showing severe displeasure or disapproval The elder's stern expression softened.— Brian Jacques, Redwall
3 : firm and not changeable She showed stern determination to succeed.

Other Words from stern

sternly adverb speak sternly



Kids Definition of stern (Entry 2 of 2)

: the rear end of a boat

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on stern

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for stern

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with stern

Spanish Central: Translation of stern

Nglish: Translation of stern for Spanish Speakers

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

Comments on stern

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


to express in a more acceptable way

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Intact Latin Quiz

  • roman tablet
  • What did focus mean in Latin?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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