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

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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.

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 Catholic schools that do not follow the catechism and tenets of Catholicism, or worse, defiantly adopt policies that contradict them, are not truly Catholic schools. cleveland, 12 Sep. 2023 People were obeying the tenets and practices of nonviolence, but there was still violence being projected at them. Matt Brennan, Los Angeles Times, 12 Sep. 2023 Some lawmakers objected to taxpayer dollars going to private schools that are allowed under religious tenets to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students. Margery A. Beck The Associated Press, Arkansas Online, 31 Aug. 2023 On Monday, however, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of St. Theresa School, finding that they were protected by the religious tenets in exception to that law, according to the documents. Michael Lee Simpson, Peoplemag, 16 Aug. 2023 But rapping against the beat at length without noticing, ignoring every tenet in the world of Western music, clashing with the natural sapien sense of rhythm, those are different things entirely. Jonathan Rowe, Spin, 22 Aug. 2023 The series of sonnets centers on Galileo and the way the Catholic Church charged him with heresy for claiming the earth moves around the sun, going against the tenets of scripture. Nina MacLaughlin, BostonGlobe.com, 10 Aug. 2023 One of the main tenets of your sign, Libra, is balance. Jacqueline Tempera, Women's Health, 31 July 2023 Home decor trends always change, but using mirrors to bounce light, and make a space appear bigger, is one design tenet that will always ring true. Stephanie Osmanski, Better Homes & Gardens, 18 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tenet.' 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 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.

First Known Use

circa 1600, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of tenet was circa 1600


Dictionary Entries Near tenet

Cite this Entry

“Tenet.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tenet. Accessed 24 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


te·​net ˈten-ət How to pronounce tenet (audio)
: a widely held belief
especially : one held in common by members of a group or profession

More from Merriam-Webster on tenet

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