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."

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Minari breakout Alan Kim also has a scene-stealing role as a wannabe talent agent, and Patti Harrison plays a business development exec with ulterior motives. Chris Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Jan. 2023 When the exhilaration and beauty of sports were too often clouded by manipulation, propaganda and ulterior motives. Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle, 29 Dec. 2022 When their family patriarch is stabbed, seven women, each with ulterior motives, become trapped together in a mansion to solve the puzzle of his murder. Travis Bean, Forbes, 28 Dec. 2022 Even with no ulterior drive to dominion, human cognition is susceptible to a range of errors and biases that have been extensively documented over the past several decades (though in many cases these are rediscoveries of older insights). Washington Post, 8 Oct. 2021 Paul’s flippant comments about the island reveal some of these entrepreneurs' ulterior intentions, beyond just saving money. Frances Solá-santiago, refinery29.com, 3 May 2021 But buddying-up with Trump had an ulterior significance for Johnson. Jay Elwes, National Review, 19 Nov. 2020 The central mystery of Bankman-Fried’s political giving is whether the crypto executive had an ulterior motive in backing congressional candidates. Los Angeles Times, 5 Dec. 2022 But there’s an ulterior motive, a selfish motive in that. Carolyn Giardina, The Hollywood Reporter, 2 Dec. 2022 See More

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

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 5 Feb. 2023.

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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