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

And on key topics -- from cars to government procurement -- the U.S. is sticking with demands that its partners consider untenable. Eric Martin, Bloomberg.com, "Trump Push for Quick Nafta Deal Slowed by Persistent Divide," 16 Apr. 2018 And the law didn’t just affect Google, which never directly made money off Google News anyway: small Spanish news aggregators were annihilated, as their entire business model had just been made untenable. David Meyer, Fortune, "Google Is Being Criticized Over Its Copyright Stance In Europe. But the Company Is Right," 26 June 2018 By 2011, a justification that once seemed unobjectionable had come to seem untenable. Nicholas Bagley, Vox, "Trump’s legal attack on the ACA isn’t about health care. It’s a war on the rule of law.," 8 June 2018 But playing only six guys seems untenable given Golden State’s ability to apply pressure, especially on the road. Ben Golliver, SI.com, "Houston’s Blueprint for Life Without Chris Paul: Optimism, Intensity And a Potent Starting Lineup," 26 May 2018 These efforts ultimately failed; once the 2000 presidential campaign put a spotlight on the administration’s policies toward South Africa, the White House decided its position was politically untenable. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "It’s Normal for the U.S. to Put Corporate Profits Above Babies’ Health," 10 July 2018 Officials also discussed strategies for managing rates if growth quickens to an untenable pace that induces bubbles and high inflation. Orla Mccaffrey, WSJ, "U.S. Government Bond Prices Edge Lower," 5 July 2018 Some refugees in the town saw the trip back to Syria as an untenable acceptance of a government that continues to kill civilians at a pace unmatched by any other party in the seven-year war. Louisa Loveluck And Suzan Haidamous, Washington Post, "In one Lebanese town, a dilemma divides refugees: to stay or return to Syria," 30 June 2018 And a winter free-agent freeze-out that depressed the salaries of All-Stars and drove other veterans out of the game altogether put stars and scrubs alike in an untenable spot. Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY, "MLB players survey: Sounding off on umps, shifts, steroids - and whether to strike back," 28 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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Statistics for untenable

Last Updated

10 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for untenable

The first known use of untenable was in 1647

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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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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

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).


playful or foolish behavior

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