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 We’ve been forced into this untenable situation by government incompetence and outright malice. Nick Martin, The New Republic, "Republican Malice Has Turned the Pandemic Into a Deadly Loop," 13 Nov. 2020 Without day cares and in-person education, what was previously an untenable situation has become impossible. Author: Amy Joyce, Ellen Mccarthy, Anchorage Daily News, "Mothers are being driven out of the workforce in droves by the pandemic," 30 Oct. 2020 Without day cares and in-person education, what was previously an untenable situation has become impossible. Washington Post, "Working moms are not okay," 29 Oct. 2020 This untenable situation is partly the fault of the two-party system, which limits the choices Americans have and artificially shoehorns their anger — over a range of American failures — into targeting one party or the other. Jennifer N. Pritzker, Star Tribune, "I'm a social liberal, fiscal conservative — and politically homeless," 28 Oct. 2020 Its founders quietly decided to separate while still living and working together, but the situation was untenable. Katherine Rosman, New York Times, "How the Designer of Milly Broke Free," 24 Oct. 2020 The trips, plus the cost of the medical regimen or procedure — which can be $1,000 or more — can be untenable without financial aid. Molly Longman, refinery29.com, "Roe v. Wade Might Be Overturned Soon — This Is Worse Than You Think," 20 Oct. 2020 But in the long run, the fuel may prove economically and environmentally untenable within the power sector, a key market for producers. Jennifer A Dlouhy, Bloomberg.com, "Biden Won’t Ban Fracking, But His Clean Grid Would Choke Gas," 17 Oct. 2020 Since 2008, more than 700,000 Californians have moved to Texas, at first propelled by the Great Recession and later by their home state’s increasingly untenable cost of living. Matt Levin, SFChronicle.com, "Californians leave for Texas in numbers, making politically red state closer to purple," 10 Oct. 2020

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

17 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Untenable.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/untenable. Accessed 23 Nov. 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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