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

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 The squeeze is so untenable for some that a rising number of people in the tech community are moving way out to find cheaper living setups — including to Bend, Oregon, recently named the most popular remote employee area in the state. Natasha Turak, USA TODAY, "Fire-ravaged Silicon Valley house on the market for a cool $800,000," 12 Apr. 2018 The trauma caused by their separations has forced these fathers into untenable positions of fear, anger, and despair. Sarah Mearhoff, Teen Vogue, "500 Immigrant Dads Are Staging a Hunger Strike at a Texas Detention Center," 3 Aug. 2018 Breakstone worries that rising construction costs could make building future homes in the $300,000 price range untenable. Dylan Jackson, miamiherald, "South Florida home prices and rents are already expensive. And they could soon get worse.," 13 June 2018 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

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

22 Dec 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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