ul·​te·​ri·​or ˌəl-ˈtir-ē-ər How to pronounce ulterior (audio)
: going beyond what is openly said or shown and especially what is proper
ulterior motives
: more distant
: situated on the farther side
ulteriorly adverb

Did you know?

Although now usually hitched to the front of the noun motive to refer to a hidden need or desire that inspires action, ulterior began its career as an adjective in the 17th century describing something occurring at a subsequent time, such as "ulterior measures" taken after a lawful request. It then started to be used to mean both "more distant" (literally and figuratively) and "situated on the farther side." The "hidden" sense, which is most familiar today, followed after those, with the word modifying nouns like purpose, design, and consequence. Ulterior comes directly from the Latin word for "farther" or "further," itself assumed to be from ulter, meaning "situated beyond."

Examples of ulterior in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Everything is driven by ulterior political motives to court popularity and to win reelection — even setting aside a seat on the United States Supreme Court for a Black woman, insinuating the appointment was not based on merit. Armstrong Williams, Baltimore Sun, 17 Mar. 2024 Photo: Peggy Nolan Her ulterior motivation for enrolling at FIU, though, was to use its darkroom to develop her photographs. Nadine Zylberberg, Vogue, 3 Apr. 2023 For its own sake, and not some ulterior parenting goal? Carolyn Hax, Washington Post, 15 Dec. 2023 The human brain has acquired new instruments—auxiliary electronics that are hooked into algorithms organized, with ulterior purpose, in some sinister way. Lance Morrow, WSJ, 14 Nov. 2022 See all Example Sentences for ulterior 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ulterior.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin, farther, further, comparative of *ulter situated beyond, from uls beyond; akin to Latin ollus, ille, that one, Old Irish indoll beyond

First Known Use

1646, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of ulterior was in 1646


Dictionary Entries Near ulterior

Cite this Entry

“Ulterior.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ulterior. Accessed 16 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


ul·​te·​ri·​or ˌəl-ˈtir-ē-ər How to pronounce ulterior (audio)
: kept hidden in order to achieve a particular result
ulterior motives
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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