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

But getting limitless content without paying while also being spared heavy advertising intrusions is untenable. Peter Funt, WSJ, "Who’s to Blame for Ad Clutter," 6 Jan. 2019 But their peripatetic lifestyles — back and forth between New York and Massachusetts, then getting on planes and trains for performances — felt increasingly untenable, especially for Wiancko. David Weininger, BostonGlobe.com, "A musical haven with a vision — and a view — in Western Mass.," 20 June 2018 Rajoy's position had become increasingly untenable, undermined by his status as head of a corruption-tinged minority government as well as a divisive independence drive in the wealthy region of Catalonia. NBC News, "Spanish Socialist Sanchez succeeds ousted Rajoy after corruption scandal," 1 June 2018 But Israel’s vital geostrategic location, sophisticated military and technology sector, and deep ties to the U.S. make its lack of a formal foreign-investment oversight body untenable over the long run. Ilan Berman, WSJ, "Israel’s Dangerous Dalliance With China," 13 Jan. 2019 Once the Great Depression hit, that would become untenable. Elizabeth Winkler, WSJ, "‘Liberated Spirits’ Review: When Alcohol Was a Women’s Issue," 25 Oct. 2018 With an app bundle and the developer's encryption key, Google servers handle all of the targeting, versioning, and compiling at a scale that would be untenable for a single developer. Ron Amadeo, Ars Technica, "Android 9 Pie, thoroughly reviewed," 13 Sep. 2018 There's also the rift with club president Bruno de Carvalho that has rendered Sporting untenable for most of the squad. SI.com, "Liverpool on Alert as Highly-Rated Portugal International Officially Leaves Sporting CP," 15 June 2018 Soon, their time with the foreign armies became well-known, Al-Manasser said, and life was untenable in Iraq. Hamed Aleaziz, San Francisco Chronicle, "Once a haven for refugees, California sees admissions dwindle under Trump," 11 June 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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Last Updated

17 Mar 2019

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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

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

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Comments on untenable

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


a shady place in a garden or forest

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