ton·​tine | \ ˈtän-ˌtēn How to pronounce tontine (audio) , tän-ˈtēn \

Definition of tontine

: a joint financial arrangement whereby the participants usually contribute equally to a prize that is awarded entirely to the participant who survives all the others

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Tontines were named after their creator, a Neapolitan banker named Lorenzo Tonti. In 1653, Tonti convinced investors to buy shares in a fund he had created. Each year, the investors earned dividends, and when one of them died, his or her share of the profits was redistributed among the survivors. When the last investor died, the capital reverted to the state. Louis XIV of France used tontines to save his ailing treasury and to fund municipal projects, and private tontines (where the last surviving investor—and subsequently their heirs—got the cash instead of the state) became popular throughout Europe and the U.S. Eventually, though, tontines were banned; there was just too much temptation for unscrupulous investors to bump off their fellow subscribers.

Examples of tontine in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Works by Agatha Christie, Robert Louis Stevenson and P. G. Wodehouse all featured tontine members plotting to kill one another in hope of a big payoff. Tom Verde, New York Times, 24 Mar. 2017 Popular culture embellished the tontine’s nefarious reputation. Tom Verde, New York Times, 24 Mar. 2017

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

First Known Use of tontine

1765, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tontine

French, from Lorenzo Tonti †1695 Italian banker

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The first known use of tontine was in 1765

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Cite this Entry

“Tontine.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sep. 2021.

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More from Merriam-Webster on tontine

Nglish: Translation of tontine for Spanish Speakers


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