un·​ten·​a·​ble | \ ˌən-ˈte-nə-bəl How to pronounce untenable (audio) \

Definition of untenable

1 : not able to be defended an untenable position
2 : not able to be occupied untenable apartments

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Other Words from untenable

untenability \ ˌən-​ˌte-​nə-​ˈbi-​lə-​tē How to pronounce untenability (audio) \ noun

Did You Know?

Untenable and its opposite tenable come to us from Old French tenir and ultimately from Latin tenēre, both of which mean "to hold." We tend to use untenable in situations where an idea or position is so off base that holding on to it is unjustified or inexcusable. One way to hold on to the meaning of "untenable" is to associate it with other tenēre descendants whose meanings are associated with "holding" or "holding on to." Tenacious" ("holding fast") is one example. Others are contain, detain,sustain,maintain, and retain.

Examples of untenable in a Sentence

The Agriculture Department is in an untenable position. With the two hats that it wears—one to protect consumer health and the other to help farmers sell food—it cannot tell us to eat fewer calories. After all, fewer calories generally mean less food, which would fly in the face of the department's mandate to help farmers. — Marian Burros, New York Times, 14 Aug. 2002 But scholars are citizens, too, and if it is wrongheaded to demand political payoff from basic research, it would be equally untenable to demand that research be quarantined from the real-world considerations that weigh so heavily upon us. — Henry Louis Gates, Jr., New York Times, 4 Apr. 1998 All the theories of the Moon's origin proposed before the Apollo Moon landings of 1969 … became untenable when the rocks returned from the Moon proved to be as old as the Earth and significantly dissimilar. Physics Today, January 1997 The problem was then resolved—not by finding that the conduct in question was justified, because that would have offended the judge's sense of order, and not by rejecting the applicability of the defense, which would have led to a reportable opinion and an appeal—but through a dismissal of the charges on the wholly untenable ground that the prosecution had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt. — Edward N. Costikyan, New York Times Book Review, 13 Mar. 1988
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Recent Examples on the Web Bach said the situation had become untenable in recent days as the World Health Organization described the acceleration of the virus in Africa to Olympic leaders. New York Times, "I.O.C. and Japan Agree to Postpone Tokyo Olympics," 24 Mar. 2020 Philip Hersh in Globetrotting: The IOC’s insistence that the Olympics could be held this summer as scheduled becomes untenable. oregonlive, "The 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials and 2021 World Outdoor Championships look iffy: Oregon track & field rundown," 23 Mar. 2020 Holding the Tokyo Games as planned this summer had become untenable. Nancy Armour, USA TODAY, "Opinion: IOC is making the right choice – only choice – to not hold Tokyo Games as planned," 23 Mar. 2020 An increasingly nuanced reading of the fraught situation emerges as well, and Kernell’s tenacious digging for truth yields impressive results, even as the trio’s physical predicament in a seedy hotel becomes increasingly untenable. Todd Mccarthy, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Charter': Film Review | Sundance 2020," 4 Feb. 2020 As supply chains have become more complex and consumers expect same-day delivery, that approach has become untenable, incentivizing warehouse operators to turn to systems that can learn on their own. Parmy Olson, WSJ, "Smarter Delivery Hinges on Smarter Robots," 29 Jan. 2020 Some employees the WaPo profiled were quitting due to the new commutes, now made untenable by cost, distance, duration, or child-care needs. Kate Cox, Ars Technica, "The future of work looks like staying out of the office," 18 Feb. 2020 For Lam, who has failed to quell the protests and done much to stoke public outrage, the situation seems increasingly untenable. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, "Hong Kong’s stunning vote deepens China’s conundrum," 26 Nov. 2019 The latter can give some decent minutes in the right matchup, but proved untenable for a first-round series against the Warriors. Rob Mahoney, SI.com, "How Should the Clippers' Role Players Orbit Around Their Two New Stars?," 2 Aug. 2019

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

1647, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for untenable

un- entry 1 + tenable

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Time Traveler for untenable

Time Traveler

The first known use of untenable was in 1647

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Last Updated

30 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Untenable.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/untenable. Accessed 30 Mar. 2020.

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More Definitions for untenable


How to pronounce untenable (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of untenable

formal : not capable of being defended against attack or criticism : not tenable

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