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ten·​ant ˈte-nənt How to pronounce tenant (audio)
: one who has the occupation or temporary possession of lands or tenements of another
specifically : one who rents or leases a dwelling (such as a house) from a landlord
: one who holds or possesses real estate or sometimes personal property (such as a security) by any kind of right
tenantless adjective


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tenanted; tenanting; tenants

transitive verb

: to hold or occupy as or as if as a tenant : inhabit
tenantable adjective

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Tenets vs. Tenants

Thanks to its confusingly similar pronunciation, tenant (“occupant, land-holder”) is sometimes erroneously used in place of tenet (“principle, doctrine”). Consider this example:

One of the ancient tenants of the Buddist [sic] belief is, “He who sits still, wins” –Police, January/February 1968

You will probably never make the opposite mistake (that is, substitute tenet for tenant), but if you think you might, remember that tenant and occupant both end in -ant.

Example Sentences

Noun A tenant is now leasing the apartment. the laundry in the basement is for tenants only
Recent Examples on the Web
Birmingham has lined up a tenant for the former Edwards Chevrolet, Sticks ‘N’ Stuff building downtown, that will bring 200 new jobs to the city. Greg Garrison | , al, 21 Mar. 2023 Rent is no more than 30 percent of a tenant’s income. Gary Warth, San Diego Union-Tribune, 20 Mar. 2023 Normally, a landlord would file a nonpayment case against such a tenant in housing court. Ronda Kaysen, New York Times, 18 Mar. 2023 The only evidence of an unwelcome visitor took shape in cut, mangled mesh, and the discovery of a single tenant in a home where two had lived. Jamie Landers, Dallas News, 14 Mar. 2023 Meanwhile, Gruber Law Offices LLC, a long-time 100 East tenant, is planning to look for a new location. Tom Daykin, Journal Sentinel, 10 Mar. 2023 With some of the strictest regulations in the country, New York essentially forbids rentals in most apartments for fewer than 30 days without a tenant present. Raeedah Wahid, Fortune, 3 Mar. 2023 McCain, a six-term GOP Senator from Arizona and a longtime tenant of the Russell building, which houses the Armed Services Committee that McCain chaired, remains an icon of public service and bipartisanship in the Senate. Pablo Manríquez, The New Republic, 23 Feb. 2023 Those include poignant scenes with a depressed tenant in the apartment building of his mother, where Wentong has lived since his divorce; a reflective moment with his flinty sister; and a tender visit to his ex-wife in hospital. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 18 Feb. 2023
Her office plans to track case outcomes, if landlords have certificates of compliance, total eviction filings over time, landlord and tenant legal representation and demographic information. Nushrat Rahman, Detroit Free Press, 8 Feb. 2023 Shamus Roller, executive director of the National Housing Law Project, said the announcement gave an important nod to tenant rights at such a high government level. Rachel Siegel, Washington Post, 25 Jan. 2023 The problem is that the board’s increases, whether minimal or substantial, aren’t pegged to tenant incomes in any way. Curbed, 23 June 2022 Still, landlords are including concessions to get deals, offering abatements and tenant improvement allowances. Natalie Wong, Bloomberg.com, 30 Mar. 2022 With that deadline fast approaching and politicians so far unresponsive to tenant advocates’ calls for another extension, renters and small landlords report widespread confusion and fear about falling through the cracks. Lauren Hepler, San Francisco Chronicle, 13 Mar. 2022 Should cities such as San Francisco give legal recognition to tenant unions? Will Parker, WSJ, 22 Jan. 2022 By 2020, similar units at the complex rented for approximately $1,200 per month, according to leases and tenant payment records reviewed by The Post. Washington Post, 2 Jan. 2022 Those left out Sylvia Kuster and her husband Skip currently lease most of their nearly 400-acre property to tenant farmers. cincinnati.com, 16 Sep. 2021 See More

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

Word History



Middle English tenaunt, tenant, borrowed from Anglo-French, "holder (of land under various circumstances)," noun derivative from present participle of tenir "to hold, have possession of," going back (with conjugation change) to Latin tenēre "to hold, occupy, possess," probably derivative, with the stative suffix *-h1i̯é- (with zero-grade ablaut) of the Indo-European verbal base *ten- "stretch, extend," whence, from a present-tense derivative *tn̥-neu̯/nu-, Sanskrit tanóti "(it) extends, spreads, endures," Greek tánytai "(s/he) stretches, extends, bends (a bow)," Welsh tannu, tanu "to spread, extend"; from a causative derivative *ton-éi̯e-, Sanskrit -tānayati "(it) extends," Germanic *þanjan- "to stretch" (whence Old English þennan "to stretch," Old Saxon thennian, Old High German dennen, Old Norse þenja, Gothic ufþanjan "to overextend"); from a present-tense derivative *ten-i̯e-, Greek teínein "to stretch, extend, spread, aim at," with verbal adjective tatós, action noun tásis, both from zero-grade *tn̥-t-

Note: This explanation of Latin tenēre is conventional, though the shift of sense (from "stretch, extend" to "extend the arm" to "grasp, hold"?) is not paralleled in other languages. Latin has no outcome of the Indo-European verb-stem formatives based on *ten- attested in other families (shown in the etymology above), having replaced *ten- in transitive/telic functions with the base *tend- (see tender entry 3). Derivatives with the stative suffix *-h1i̯é- regularly take zero-grade ablaut, which may be reflected in tenēre, though it could equally reflect full-grade *ten-. It is claimed that Umbrian tenitu (3rd singular imperative), apparently a counterpart within Italic to Latin tenēre, must reflect *ten- (apparently on the assumption that zero grade would result in *tan-; see Michiel de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages, Leiden, 2008).


derivative of tenant entry 1

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1b


1634, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of tenant was in the 14th century

Cite this Entry

“Tenant.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tenant. Accessed 24 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
ten·​ant ˈten-ənt How to pronounce tenant (audio)
: one who occupies property of another especially for rent


2 of 2 verb
: to hold or occupy as a tenant : inhabit

Legal Definition


ten·​ant ˈte-nənt How to pronounce tenant (audio)
: one who holds or possesses property by any kind of right : one who holds a tenancy in property
specifically : one who possesses property in exchange for payment of rent see also lessee compare tenancy


Anglo-French, from Old French, from present participle of tenir to hold, from Latin tenēre

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