\ 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

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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


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

Some rescuers worked from a tent set up on the deck of a tugboat off the ship's stern, while smaller boats and helicopters buzzed around. CBS News, "Overturned cargo ship's missing crew members are alive, Coast Guard says," 9 Sep. 2019 Health officials in the state have issued stern warnings to residents: Stop vaping immediately. Michael Nedelman, CNN, "Another death from lung illness linked to vaping reported," 3 Sep. 2019 As with all the Disney Cruise Line ships that came before it, the Disney Wish will have an iconic Disney character gracing its stern, reflecting the theme of the vessel. Hannah Chubb,, "Disney Cruise Lines Reveals a New Ship (and Island Getaway) — See the Disney Wish!," 28 Aug. 2019 There is something universal in the way a seasoned elementary school teacher commands a classroom: loving but stern, largely dictatorial but open to democracy within reason and rules. Richard Fausset, New York Times, "Louisiana Says ‘Oui’ to French, Amid Explosion in Dual-Language Schools," 21 Aug. 2019 From the stern, slow opening to the final giddy bars, the orchestra played this with a marvelous unity. Ken Jacques, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Review: Tao wows and Francis dances in Mainly Mozart final concert," 23 June 2019 Across town, meanwhile, Jimmie’s stern, dismissive father (Rob Morgan) ekes out a living assembling bootleg DVDs in his Single Room Occupancy studio apartment. Michael Phillips,, "'Last Black Man in San Francisco' review: This old house tells a story," 11 June 2019 Boats the size of the Magestic must moor more than one hundred yards out, as a flotilla of dinghies, rowed from the stern with a single oar, ferry goods to the dock. Rowan Moore Gerety, Harper's magazine, "Downstream," 10 June 2019 Nepal did not let in foreigners, so the only route to Everest was controlled by a stern, guarded Lhasa in Tibet. Ipsita Chakravarty, Quartz India, "How colonialism cost the Himalayas their remoteness," 10 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Imagine if someone took a chainsaw to the roof of one of San Francisco Muni’s vintage street cars, opened it to the sky, then strung party lights from a central cabin and hung a pirate flag from the stern. Sarah Feldberg,, "It’s a boat. It’s a tram. It’s San Francisco’s celebrity trolley," 6 Sep. 2019 This is before Noel took the stern of the band fulltime. William Goodman, Billboard, "Oasis' 'Definitely Maybe' Turns 25: Here's Where the Rock 'N' Roll Stars Were Born," 29 Aug. 2019 Last year, the stern of the destroyer USS Abner Read was discovered off the island of Kiska. Fox News, "Bow of WW II US submarine discovered near remote Alaskan island," 31 July 2019 The eagle with a swastika under its talons was part of the stern of the German battleship Admiral Graf Spee that sank off Uruguay’s coast at the outset of World War II. Washington Post, "Court tells Uruguay to sell Nazi eagle from battleship," 22 June 2019 The stern, lacking a hydrodynamic leading edge like the bow, tumbled and corkscrewed for more than two miles down to the ocean floor. National Geographic, "How the Titanic was lost and found," 22 Aug. 2019 The bombs are then disabled by divers, underwater drones or towing equipment dragged behind the stern. Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, "Iran Has Hundreds of Naval Mines. U.S. Navy Minesweepers Find Old Dishwashers and Car Parts.," 9 Aug. 2019 Sea ice has scoured the stern and crushed the area where Franklin had his cabin, entombing or scattering its artifacts. National Geographic, "In 1845 explorers sought the Northwest Passage—then vanished," 8 Aug. 2019 Wagner has always maintained that Wood probably got out of bed because the Splendour’s dinghy was knocking against the stern and the sound was keeping her up—a common annoyance for boaters moored at night. Eleanor Hildebrandt, Popular Mechanics, "The True Story of the Lost Sci-Fi Movie "Brainstorm," Natalie Wood’s Last Film," 21 Dec. 2018

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.

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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

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Last Updated

12 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for stern

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

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More Definitions for stern



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

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More from Merriam-Webster on stern

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with stern

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for 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

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