te·​net | \ ˈte-nət How to pronounce tenet (audio) also ˈtē-nət \

Definition of tenet

: a principle, belief, or doctrine generally held to be true especially : one held in common by members of an organization, movement, or profession

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In Latin, tenet is the third person singular of the verb tenēre ("to hold") and means "he/she/it holds." It is believed to have been borrowed into English around 1600 from Latin writings in which it often introduced the opinions held by a particular church or sect. There are a good many tenēre descendants in English, including some words that end in -tain (abstain, contain, maintain, and sustain, to name a few), and others that begin with ten- (such as tenable, meaning "capable of being held," and tenacious).

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.

Examples of tenet in a Sentence

the central tenets of a religion one of the basic tenets of the fashion industry
Recent Examples on the Web As Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, sat before the Judiciary Committee in late March, Judge Tadia Whitner forgot a very important tenet of social media. Ernie Suggs, ajc, 6 Apr. 2022 At the end of the day, the most important tenet of a healthy, clean lifestyle is sharing with others. Outside Online, 4 Apr. 2022 One old tenet: when a contestant gives a bad answer, the host isn’t supposed to react negatively. Rodney Ho, ajc, 27 Apr. 2022 The cases underscore what was a key tenet of the progressive prosecutor’s campaign: holding officers accountable for wrongdoing. Megan Cassidy, San Francisco Chronicle, 2 Feb. 2022 But even though this elementary idea is a core tenet of investment, it is routinely misused, distorted or simply ignored, as illustrated below. Shivaram Rajgopal, Forbes, 13 Nov. 2021 New York Solidarity with working people is a core tenet of the left. Ted Rall, WSJ, 21 Nov. 2021 There are many variants, but a central tenet of the movement is that the U.S. is secretly a corporation run by elites based on something that happened in the 1700s or 1800s. Kevin Krause, Dallas News, 26 Mar. 2021 Which is also a reminder that until this week, Facebook was actively funneling users to a conspiracy theory whose central tenet is that the world is run by a cabal of celebrity pedophiles whom only Donald Trump can bring to justice. Brian Barrett, Wired, 22 Aug. 2020 See More

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

First Known Use of tenet

circa 1600, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tenet

borrowed from Latin, "(s/he) holds," 3rd person singular present tense of tenēre "to hold, possess" — more at tenant entry 1

Note: Probably from the use of tenet in Latin texts as the opening verb in the statement of a principle or doctrine held by the person or body in question; cf. tenent (Latin, "they hold") used in the 16th to 18th centuries in the same sense.

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The first known use of tenet was circa 1600

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Last Updated

12 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Tenet.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tenet. Accessed 23 May. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on tenet

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tenet

Nglish: Translation of tenet for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of tenet for Arabic Speakers


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