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

Other Words from untenable

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

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Untenable and its opposite tenable come to us from Old French tenir ("to hold, have possession of") and ultimately from Latin tenēre ("to hold, occupy, possess"). We tend to use untenable in situations where an idea or position is so off base that holding onto it is unjustified or inexcusable. One way to hold onto the meaning of untenable is to associate it with other tenēre descendants whose meanings are associated with "holding" or "holding onto." 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 One strain of thinking suggests that artists’ royalty agreements—perhaps the most promising development in the crypto art space—are untenable and that a stable, mature NFT market will require their elimination. Jessica Rizzo, Wired, 19 Jan. 2022 Military leaders complained publicly and anonymously to British tabloids that continued links with the prince were untenable. Maria Puente, USA TODAY, 14 Jan. 2022 Network executives are recognizing that the status quo is untenable and that changes to the current system are inevitable. Joe Otterson, Variety, 23 Dec. 2021 People are growing more certain in the notion that the status quo of American working life is untenable. Los Angeles Times, 10 Dec. 2021 In turn, Hodges’s dictate for a dedicated space for The Thinker, complete with a correct reading, is simply untenable. Randal Doane, Harper’s Magazine , 7 Dec. 2021 Of course, that's absolutely untenable if that developer is working from home. Adrian Bridgwater, Forbes, 11 June 2021 The Health Industry Distributors Association, a trade group for medical supply companies, said in a letter to the Transportation Department last month that the situation had become untenable and asked for the Biden administration to step in. NBC news, 24 Nov. 2021 The country must confront the likely prospect of having to relocate scores of coastal communities where life may soon become untenable because of rising sea levels. Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times, 31 Oct. 2021

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

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The first known use of untenable was in 1647

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Last Updated

22 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Untenable.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/untenable. Accessed 24 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for untenable



English Language Learners Definition of untenable

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


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