\ˈtərn \

Definition of tern 

: any of various chiefly marine birds (subfamily Sterninae of the family Laridae and especially genus Sterna) that differ from the related gulls in usually smaller size, a more slender build, a sharply pointed bill, narrower wings, and an often forked tail

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Illustration of tern

Examples of tern in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Indigenous nesters include the graceful and aerodynamic terns. Susan Moeller, BostonGlobe.com, "A beachcombing guide: Things to find at the beach," 2 May 2018 This free festival on Saturday honors the common tern, a species that, despite its name, is listed as threatened in New York State. Laurel Graeber, New York Times, "9 Things to Do With Your Kids in N.Y.C. This Weekend," 12 July 2018 In fall, the numbers of pelicans, Heermann’s gulls and elegant terns can be outstanding. Jill K. Robinson, SFChronicle.com, "5 places to spot birds in Half Moon Bay," 12 July 2018 All those birds, incuding boobies, frigatebirds, noddies, shearwaters and terns, poop. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "Coral Reefs Need Fewer Rats and More Bird Poo," 12 July 2018 Swallows, gulls and terns, crows, blackbirds and orioles, tyrant flycatchers and parids—all practice mobbing. Lance Morrow, WSJ, "Political Harassment Is for the Birds," 6 July 2018 Delehanty said the Aleutian tern, which has faced endangerment, breeds on Attu. Alex Horton, Washington Post, "Thousands of Japanese fought in a bloody World War II battle for the Aleutians. Only 28 survived.," 24 May 2018 White terns flutter high in the canopy of motu Reiono’s giant indigenous cabbage trees (Pisonia grandis). Klara Glowczewska, Town & Country, "The Brando Is the Ultimate Luxury Resort—But What It Really Wants to Do Is Save the Planet," 20 Sep. 2017 The islands also are used as nesting sites by least terns, Forster’s terns, oystercatchers and other waterbirds. Shannon Tompkins, Houston Chronicle, "Cow Trap Lake Project a success on multiple levels," 10 May 2018

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

1678, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tern

of Scandinavian origin; akin to Danish terne tern

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Time Traveler for tern

The first known use of tern was in 1678

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English Language Learners Definition of tern

: a kind of bird that lives near the ocean, is usually black and white, and has long wings and a tail with two points


\ˈtərn \

Kids Definition of tern

: a small slender seagull with a white body, narrow wings, and the top of the head black

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More from Merriam-Webster on tern

See words that rhyme with tern

Spanish Central: Translation of tern

Nglish: Translation of tern for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about tern

Comments on tern

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


obstinately defiant of authority

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