untenable

adjective

un·​ten·​a·​ble ˌən-ˈte-nə-bəl How to pronounce untenable (audio)
1
: not able to be defended
an untenable position
2
: not able to be occupied
untenable apartments
untenability noun

Did you know?

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
Recent Examples on the Web Yes, the model was untenable, but the insanely detailed grain bowls and noodles with gochujang-revved oxtail ragù were like nothing before or since: mind-jangling, comforting, stubbornly affordable. Bill Addison, Los Angeles Times, 9 July 2024 The prospect of James playing for the Lakers while owning part of their archrival would also be untenable. Michael McCann, Sportico.com, 1 July 2024 Meanwhile, humanitarian workers are warning that the situation in Gaza is untenable. Jennifer Hansler, CNN, 25 June 2024 Nevertheless, every justice but Thomas appeared to realize that allowing Rahimi to own a gun would be untenable. Ian Millhiser, Vox, 21 June 2024 See all Example Sentences for untenable 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'untenable.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

un- entry 1 + tenable

First Known Use

1647, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of untenable was in 1647

Podcast

Dictionary Entries Near untenable

Cite this Entry

“Untenable.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/untenable. Accessed 18 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition

untenable

adjective
un·​ten·​a·​ble ˌən-ˈten-ə-bəl How to pronounce untenable (audio)
1
: not able to be defended
an untenable position
2
: not able to be occupied
untenable apartments
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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