un·ten·a·ble | \ ˌən-ˈte-nə-bəl \

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 \ 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

Eventually, being the preferred channel of cruel trolls is an untenable state of affairs for a business, no matter how much the core audience loves it or how often the president promotes his favorite segments. Jay Willis, GQ, "Fox News CEO Asks That On-Air Talent Be Slightly Less Racist Monsters," 28 June 2018 But here’s the important thing to consider: Are freight delays driving up the cost of living to untenable levels? Nick Stockton, WIRED, "Traffic Doesn’t Hurt the Economy—But We Should Still Fix It," 26 June 2018 The escalating price, in particular, made all those other factors untenable. James Briggs, Indianapolis Star, "Briggs: MoviePass might be dying, but its movie subscription concept is worth saving," 11 May 2018 But in the grander scope of entertainment, Söderström’s claim is not untenable or unrealistic. Cherie Hu, Billboard, "Spotify Wants to Be 'The R&D Department for the Entire Music Industry' -- What Does That Actually Mean?," 26 Apr. 2018 There are a lot bigger issues to deal with there, like the increasingly untenable visitation. J. Weston Phippen, Outside Online, "The Terrible State of Our National Parks—in Photos," 5 July 2018 And rangers say campers are failing to extinguish their campfires, creating an untenable situation. Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY, "Wildfires in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona force closure of large chunks of forest," 12 June 2018 Prado's group has long warned of the untenable situation at police station jails, where detainees are often kept far longer than the 48-hour holding period mandated by law after an initial arrest. Chris Kraul, latimes.com, "Anguish after Venezuela jail fire kills at least 68: 'Those who did this should pay'," 29 Mar. 2018 Sooner, rather than later, and maybe even right now, that status quo will become untenable. Todd Vanderwerff, Vox, "The Handmaid’s Tale season 2 was masterful. But it may have broken the show.," 11 July 2018

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

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Statistics for untenable

Last Updated

1 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for untenable

The first known use of untenable was in 1647

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English Language Learners Definition of untenable

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

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More from Merriam-Webster on untenable

Spanish Central: Translation of untenable

Nglish: Translation of untenable for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of untenable for Arabic Speakers

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


the setting in which something occurs

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