ul·​ti·​ma·​tum | \ ˌəl-tə-ˈmā-təm How to pronounce ultimatum (audio) , -ˈmä- How to pronounce ultimatum (audio) \
plural ultimatums or ultimata\ ˌəl-​tə-​ˈmā-​tə How to pronounce ultimata (audio) , -​ˈmä-​ \

Definition of ultimatum

: a final proposition, condition, or demand especially : one whose rejection will end negotiations and cause a resort to force or other direct action

Keep scrolling for more

Did You Know?

An ultimatum is usually issued by a stronger power to a weaker one, since it wouldn't carry much weight if the one giving the ultimatum couldn't back up its threat. Near the end of World War II, the Allied powers issued an ultimatum to Japan: surrender completely or face the consequences. Japan rejected the ultimatum, and within days the U.S. had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing some 200,000 people.

Examples of ultimatum in a Sentence

She was given an ultimatum—work harder or lose her job. issued the ultimatum that the project be finished by the following week, or it would be terminated

Recent Examples on the Web

Somewhere amid her husband’s countless roundtrips from Sonoma to Atlanta for NBA TV appearances, Meredith Hale-Griffin issued an ultimatum. Jake Fischer, SI.com, "How David Griffin Rebuilt the Pelicans and His World," 1 Aug. 2019 And from there, and into Saturday, there was an expectation that Gruden would at some point fire off some sort of ultimatum at his mercurial star. Albert Breer, SI.com, "Antonio Brown’s Helmet Drama Is Exactly What Jon Gruden and the Raiders Bargained For," 12 Aug. 2019 What finally prompted San Francisco State to do so in May was an ultimatum from Congress, placed in the Defense Department’s 2019 funding bill, to shut down its Confucius Institute or lose federal funding for foreign language training programs. Teresa Watanabestaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, "San Francisco State shuts down Chinese language program under federal pressure," 29 July 2019 Disgusted Disgusted: These parents had delivered an ultimatum; their daughter had chosen to move out. Amy Dickinson, Washington Post, "Ask Amy: Woman is torn between career and motherhood," 8 July 2019 Austria delivered a harsh ultimatum to the Serbs that demanded vast interference in Serbian domestic affairs. Isabel V. Hull, The New York Review of Books, "Hang the Kaiser?," 21 Mar. 2019 Tonight, Chuck Grassley, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, delivered an ultimatum to Ford's lawyers. Fox News, "New developments in Tucker's Google investigation; Dean Cain on Hollywood rallying behind Kavanaugh's accuser," 22 Sep. 2018 Disgusted Dear Disgusted: These parents had delivered an ultimatum; their daughter had chosen to move out. Ask Amy, oregonlive.com, "Ask Amy: Career-driven woman feels pressure to have kids but isn’t sure she wants to," 8 July 2019 In a statement released with the report, GLAAD’s president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis delivered an ultimatum to Hollywood executives, demanding that 20 percent of films by 2021 feature LGBTQ characters, increasing to 50 percent by 2024. Stephen Daw, Billboard, "GLAAD Report Shows Major Film Studios Are Getting Worse About LGBTQ Inclusion," 22 May 2018

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

See More

First Known Use of ultimatum

1731, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ultimatum

New Latin, from Medieval Latin, neuter of ultimatus final

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about ultimatum

Statistics for ultimatum

Last Updated

8 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ultimatum

The first known use of ultimatum was in 1731

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for ultimatum



English Language Learners Definition of ultimatum

: a final threat : a promise that force or punishment will be used if someone does not do what is wanted


ul·​ti·​ma·​tum | \ ˌəl-tə-ˈmā-təm How to pronounce ultimatum (audio) \
plural ultimatums or ultimata\ -​ˈmā-​tə \

Kids Definition of ultimatum

: a final condition or demand that if rejected could end future negotiations and lead to forceful or undesirable action

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on ultimatum

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


readily or continually undergoing change

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Musical Words Quiz

  • gramophone
  • Which word describes a musical performance marked by the absence of instrumental accompaniment?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!