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

Keep scrolling for more

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
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

The distinction drawn in the Abood case — between a union’s political spending and other activities — is untenable and unworkable, Justice Alito added. Adam Liptak, New York Times, "Supreme Court Ruling Delivers a Sharp Blow to Labor Unions," 27 June 2018 All of this is fiscally untenable and ethically corrupt, because the public is being played and the rules are stacked against them. John Kass, chicagotribune.com, "Gov. Rauner’s legacy rests with the U.S. Supreme Court," 22 June 2018 Councilman Michael Polensek called the situation with violent crime untenable and said his constituents were arming themselves with guns for their own protection. Rachel Dissell, cleveland.com, "Cleveland sex crimes, special investigative units more understaffed than patrol," 13 Apr. 2018 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

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.

See More

First Known Use of untenable

1647, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for untenable

un- entry 1 + tenable

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about untenable

Listen to Our Podcast about untenable

Statistics for untenable

Last Updated

23 Apr 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for untenable

The first known use of untenable was in 1647

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for untenable



English Language Learners Definition of untenable

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

Keep scrolling for more

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).


using a distributed computer network

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Time Traveler Quiz: Which Word Came First?

  • time traveler quiz which word came first
  • Which came first?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!