suf·​frage | \ ˈsə-frij How to pronounce suffrage (audio) , sometimes -fə-rij \

Definition of suffrage

1 : a short intercessory prayer usually in a series
2 : a vote given in deciding a controverted question or electing a person for an office or trust
3 : the right of voting : franchise also : the exercise of such right

Synonyms & Antonyms for suffrage



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Why would a 17th-century writer warn people that a chapel was only for "private or secret suffrages"? Because suffrage has been used since the 14th century to mean "prayer" (especially a prayer requesting divine help or intercession). So how did suffrage come to mean "a vote" or "the right to vote"? To answer that, we must look to the word's Medieval Latin ancestor, suffrāgium, which can be translated as meaning "vote," "support," or "prayer." That term produced descendants in a number of languages, and English picked up its senses of suffrage from two different places. We took the "prayer" sense from a Middle French suffrāgium offspring that emphasized the word's spiritual aspects, and we elected to adopt the "voting" senses directly from the original Latin.

Examples of suffrage in a Sentence

women who fought for suffrage even as the world entered the 21st century, some nations still did not permit women's suffrage
Recent Examples on the Web When did women get the right to vote?:A brief look at women's suffrage. Caitlin Mclean, USA TODAY, 11 Aug. 2022 Public historian Rebekkah Rubin, for example, runs the Instagram account @iamexcessivelydollverted, which features staged photos of dolls discussing pivotal moments in history, from Juneteenth to the women’s suffrage movement. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian Magazine, 15 July 2022 Some women’s rights activists thus steered clear of the matter, worrying that such a divisive issue would fracture the all too important suffrage movement. Jennifer Wilson, The New Republic, 28 June 2022 At Arizona’s 1911 constitutional convention to become a state, women’s suffrage failed again. Gillian Brockell, Anchorage Daily News, 1 Aug. 2022 Only 23 women marched in the first suffrage parade; public speaking by women was considered repellent and unladylike., 29 July 2022 In 1913, women in Illinois were successful in gaining partial suffrage. Chicago Tribune, 26 June 2022 Ramirez and the board felt women’s suffrage celebrations were overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Beth Woodcontributor, San Diego Union-Tribune, 24 June 2022 The hall was also the site of rallies supporting the NAACP and women’s suffrage. Jessica Geltstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 2 June 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'suffrage.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of suffrage

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for suffrage

Middle English, "help, aid, intercessory prayer, indulgence," borrowed from Middle French & Medieval Latin; Middle French, borrowed from Medieval Latin suffrāgium "vote, selection, aid, support, intercessory prayer," going back to Latin, "vote cast in an assembly, right to vote, decision reached by a vote, influence exerted in support of a candidate or policy," from suffrāgor, suffrāgārī "to express public support (for a candidate, measure, etc.), be favorable (toward)" (from suf-, assimilated form of sub- sub- + -frāg-, probably from the base of frangere, past participle frāctus, "to break, shatter") + -ium, deverbal suffix of function or state — more at break entry 1

Note: Senses of suffrage having to do with voting were borrowed directly from classical Latin from the 16th century onward. The older literal meaning of Latin suffrāgārī that presumably underlies the attested senses having to do with political support and voting is obscure. Though the identity of suf- is clear, the element -frāg- has been subject to varying analyses. The most commonly accepted view sees -frāg- —despite the unexpected vowel length—as representing the verb frangere, though the import is not obvious. The idea that the reference is to the use of broken pieces of tile or pottery in voting is unlikely in view of what is known of earlier Roman election practices; moreover, the primary meaning of the verb suffrāgārī is more oriented toward support of a candidate than the mechanics of voting. In a revival of an older analysis Jyri Vaahtera connects -frāg- with the noun fragor "noise of breaking, crash, noisy clamor, shouting," and assumes that the verb alluded to the noise of an armed assembly banging weapons as a sign of acclamation (see "The origin of Latin suffrāgium," Glotta, vol. 61 [1993], pp. 66-80.)

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The first known use of suffrage was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

16 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Suffrage.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for suffrage


suf·​frage | \ ˈsə-frij How to pronounce suffrage (audio) \

Kids Definition of suffrage

: the right to vote


suf·​frage | \ ˈsə-frij How to pronounce suffrage (audio) \

Legal Definition of suffrage

1 : a vote in deciding a controverted question or the choice of a person for an office or trust no State…shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the SenateU.S. Constitution art. V
2 : the right of voting : franchise also : the exercise of such right

History and Etymology for suffrage

Latin suffragium vote, political support, from suffragari to support with one's vote

More from Merriam-Webster on suffrage

Nglish: Translation of suffrage for Spanish Speakers

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


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