ten·​a·​ble ˈte-nə-bəl How to pronounce tenable (audio)
: capable of being held, maintained, or defended : defensible, reasonable
tenability noun
tenableness noun
tenably adverb

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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 To make this more tenable — not that Trump has shown much interest in the rule of law or the Constitution, mind you — one of Trump or Rubio would have to establish residency outside of Florida. Nathaniel Rakich, ABC News, 26 Mar. 2024 The conversation may be premature — the compromise has yet to be released — but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has repeatedly voiced doubt about the current path forward being tenable. Emily Jacobs, Washington Examiner - Political News and Conservative Analysis About Congress, the President, and the Federal Government, 31 Jan. 2024 See all Example Sentences for tenable 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tenable.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1579, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of tenable was in 1579

Dictionary Entries Near tenable

Cite this Entry

“Tenable.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tenable. Accessed 30 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


ten·​a·​ble ˈten-ə-bəl How to pronounce tenable (audio)
: capable of being held, maintained, or defended
a tenable argument

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