sub·​sis·​tence | \səb-ˈsi-stən(t)s \

Definition of subsistence 

1a(1) : real being : existence

(2) : the condition of remaining in existence : continuation, persistence

b : an essential characteristic quality of something that exists

c : the character possessed by whatever is logically conceivable

2 : means of subsisting: such as

a : the minimum (as of food and shelter) necessary to support life

b : a source or means of obtaining the necessities of life

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Other Words from subsistence

subsistent \ səb-​ˈsi-​stənt \ adjective

Examples of subsistence in a Sentence

They depended on hunting and fishing for subsistence. Farming is their means of subsistence.

Recent Examples on the Web

An ancient subsistence strategy was starting to vanish. Mark Barna, Discover Magazine, "When Farmers and Foragers First Met," 24 Oct. 2018 Most residents of the area are subsistence farmers who see the four-lane road as a luxury for rich people. Jake Maxwell Watts, WSJ, "Power Play: Tiny East Timor Bets Big on Oil and Gas," 13 Oct. 2018 The United States also opposes lethal research hunts, but both countries support the exception for subsistence whalers. Sarah Dilorenzo, The Seattle Times, "Japan proposes end to commercial whaling ban, faces pushback," 10 Sep. 2018 Krings has arranged the observations on commercial fishing boats and in subsistence fish camps. Devin Kelly, Anchorage Daily News, "Meet the city health worker who tracks down tuberculosis patients in Anchorage," 3 July 2018 One is immediate subsistence to any man, woman or child who comes through our doors, no questions asked. Noelle Carter,, "L.A. has tens of thousands of homeless, hungry people. We ask Midnight Mission how it helps — and how we can," 3 May 2018 The researchers found that the money, far from being squandered on vice, went largely to subsistence and legitimate enterprise. Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, "Who Really Stands to Win from Universal Basic Income?," 24 Mar. 2014 Barr was allowed to hunt marine mammals for subsistence and Alaska Native craftwork in accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, prosecutors say. Laurel Andrews, Anchorage Daily News, "Alaska man charged with wasting walrus kill," 8 June 2018 Because of its geology, inhabitants were likely forced to rely more on fishing for subsistence—so that’s what the rats ate, too. Lorraine Boissoneault, Smithsonian, "Rat Bones Reveal How Humans Transformed Their Island Environments," 7 June 2018

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

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

History and Etymology for subsistence

Middle English, from Late Latin subsistentia, from subsistent-, subsistens, present participle of subsistere

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Last Updated

16 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for subsistence

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

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More Definitions for subsistence



English Language Learners Definition of subsistence

: the amount of food, money, etc., that is needed to stay alive


sub·​sis·​tence | \səb-ˈsis-təns \

Kids Definition of subsistence

: the smallest amount (as of food and clothing) necessary to support life

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Comments on subsistence

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


by force of circumstances

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