al·​tar ˈȯl-tər How to pronounce altar (audio)
often attributive
: a usually raised structure or place on which sacrifices are offered or incense is burned in worship
often used figuratively to describe a thing given great or undue precedence or value especially at the cost of something else
sacrificed his family life on the altar of career advancement
: a tablelike construction used in the Christian church in celebrating the Eucharist
: a table or place which serves as a center of worship or ritual
often used with the to refer to the act of getting married
They are destined for the altar.She left him at the altar. [=she decided at the last minute not to go through with her planned marriage to him]

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Though the dating premise is bizarre, the reality show has become a runaway success chock full of dramatic breakups, makeups, speeches at the altar, and perhaps the wildest of all—four seemingly successful marriages across three seasons (so far). Jacqueline Tempera, Women's Health, 24 Mar. 2023 Four Weddings and a Funeral stars Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell are back at the altar — this time on Hollywood's biggest stage. Joey Nolfi,, 13 Mar. 2023 Gotham Knights The Bottom Line Sacrifices character at the altar of superhero business. Angie Han, The Hollywood Reporter, 13 Mar. 2023 How many sparkly golden calfs must be smashed at the altar of minimalism before good, upstanding people come to their senses? Vulture, 10 Mar. 2023 At the altar of the Taoist saint for which the center is named, visitors are invited to shake a bamboo cylinder full of slender sticks to reveal a clue to what the future holds. Reis Thebault, Washington Post, 27 Jan. 2023 The first stadium, built on a floodplain between two rivers, was a simple one: the Greeks merely leveled its rolling hills to create a flat and dry space and the only event, the stadion, finished at the altar of Zeus. Marisa Sloan, Discover Magazine, 5 Aug. 2021 Bartise and Nancy split up at the altar, leaving him free and single to join Netflix's Perfect Match. Amy Mackelden, ELLE, 16 Feb. 2023 Also at the altar were dozens of candles lit by Fraser’s loved ones and other MSU students. Mike Ellis, Detroit Free Press, 15 Feb. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Middle English alter, from Old English altar, from Latin altare; probably akin to Latin adolēre to burn up

First Known Use

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of altar was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near altar

Cite this Entry

“Altar.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 31 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


al·​tar ˈȯl-tər How to pronounce altar (audio)
: a raised place on which sacrifices are offered
: a platform or table used as a center of worship
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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