ten·​a·​ble | \ ˈte-nə-bəl How to pronounce tenable (audio) \

Definition of tenable

: capable of being held, maintained, or defended : defensible, reasonable

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Other Words from tenable

tenability \ ˌte-​nə-​ˈbi-​lə-​tē How to pronounce tenability (audio) \ noun
tenableness noun
tenably \ ˈte-​nə-​blē How to pronounce tenably (audio) \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for tenable


defendable, defensible


indefensible, untenable

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Hold Onto the Meaning of Tenable

Tenable means "holdable". In the past it was often used in a physical sense—for example, to refer to a city that an army was trying to "hold" militarily against an enemy force. But nowadays it's almost always used when speaking of "held" ideas and theories. If you hold an opinion but evidence appears that completely contradicts it, your opinion is no longer tenable. So, for example, the old ideas that cancer is infectious or that being bled by leeches can cure your whooping cough now seem untenable.

Examples of tenable in a Sentence

the soldiers' encampment on the open plain was not tenable, so they retreated to higher ground the tenable theory that a giant meteor strike set off a chain of events resulting in the demise of the dinosaurs

Recent Examples on the Web

In a letter sent to the 11-member board Tuesday, Breed acknowledged that the city must ramp up efforts to confront its mental health and substance-abuse crises, but said that the proposed measure wasn’t a tenable solution. Dominic Fracassa, SFChronicle.com, "Breed, board amp up battle over measure to overhaul mental health system," 18 June 2019 The prospect of scrounging for reimbursement for our services from insurers and clicking through cumbersome electronic health records all day isn’t a tenable way to offload heavy student debt. STAT, "We were inspired to become primary care physicians. Now we’re reconsidering a field in crisis," 20 June 2019 This leads to continuing a policy that is tenable, but increasingly obsolete and unimaginative. George Steiner, Harper's magazine, "Russia and Red China," 10 June 2019 The idea of a genetic blueprint is not tenable in light of all that is now known about how all sorts of environmental contingencies affect traits. Quanta Magazine, "Finding the Actions That Alter Evolution," 5 Jan. 2017 The history of the secular West, however, proves this frame of mind to be neither tenable nor rewarding. Dominic Green, WSJ, "Roberto Calasso’s ‘The Unnamable Present’ Review: Sacrifices at Modernity’s Altar," 10 May 2019 As global temperatures increase and Arctic ice continues to shrink a shipping route roughly following Russia’s northern coastline becomes increasingly tenable. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "Meet 'Ural,' Russia's New Nuclear-Powered Icebreaking Behemoth," 28 May 2019 The Bulgarinos knew that the children’s living situation with their cousin wasn’t tenable long-term. Washington Post, "As he graduates from Wharton, Maryland boy thinks of tragedy," 25 May 2018 This goes a long way toward making We Happy Few’s high-concept setting tenable. Adi Robertson, The Verge, "We Happy Few is a creepy, fascinating game that gets lost in its own ambition," 10 Aug. 2018

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

1579, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tenable

borrowed from Middle French, going back to Old French, "capable of being defended against attack," from tenir "to hold, have possession of" + -able -able — more at tenant entry 1

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Statistics for tenable

Last Updated

15 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for tenable

The first known use of tenable was in 1579

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English Language Learners Definition of tenable

formal : capable of being defended against attack or criticism

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Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tenable

Spanish Central: Translation of tenable

Nglish: Translation of tenable for Spanish Speakers

Comments on tenable

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


appealing forcibly to the mind or reason

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