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am·​bi·​tion am-ˈbi-shən How to pronounce ambition (audio)
: an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power
With her talent and fierce ambition, she became a very successful actress.
: desire to achieve a particular end
: the object of ambition
Her ambition is to start her own business.
US : a desire for activity or exertion
felt sick and had no ambition
ambitionless adjective


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ambitioned; ambitioning; ambitions

transitive verb

: to have as one's ambition : desire

Did you know?

Ambition Has Roots in Roman Politics

When candidates for public office in ancient Rome wanted to be elected, they had to do just what modern candidates must do. They had to spend most of their time going around the city urging the citizens to vote for them. The Latin word for this effort was ambitio, which came from ambire, a verb meaning “to go around.” Since this activity was caused by a desire for honor or power, the word eventually came to mean “the desire for honor or power.” This word came into French and English as ambition in the late Middle Ages. Later its meaning broadened to include “an admirable desire for advancement or improvement” and still later “the object of this desire.”

Choose the Right Synonym for ambition

ambition, aspiration, pretension mean strong desire for advancement.

ambition applies to the desire for personal advancement or preferment and may suggest equally a praiseworthy or an inordinate desire.

driven by ambition

aspiration implies a striving after something higher than oneself.

an aspiration to become president someday

pretension suggests ardent desire for recognition of accomplishment often without actual possession of the necessary ability and therefore may imply presumption.

has literary pretensions

Example Sentences

Noun My first ambition as a child was to be in the circus. He lacked ambition and couldn't compete with the others.
Recent Examples on the Web
Galactic Energy, a rocket startup in China, launched five satellites into orbit on Monday, boosting the private company’s ambition to become the Chinese rival to SpaceX. Laura He, CNN, 10 Jan. 2023 The creation of the CCO role follows the integration of the TF1 Studio International distribution team under the Newen Connect banner in 2022, and supports the distribution company’s ambition to optimize the value of its film rights. Naman Ramachandran, Variety, 9 Jan. 2023 Meta’s ambition is not just to produce hardware but also to build virtual worlds, with the company spending more than $27 billion on the idea. Astha Rajvanshi, Time, 29 Dec. 2022 Chinese President Xi Jinping has downgraded the Communist Party’s ambition to overtake the U.S. in economic size (though that is still officially a goal). Dan Blumenthal, The Atlantic, 23 Dec. 2022 Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox have conducted research on the ambition gap for decades. Sarah Swetlik |, al, 21 Dec. 2022 Eugene comfortably fits a more conventional model of American masculinity, representing an alluring, traditional alternative to Reed's unquenchable ambition. Wesley Stenzel,, 20 Dec. 2022 Questions over how to balance the deal’s ambition with the ability of countries to pay for it generated sharp disagreements at the talks, along with demands to create a new global biodiversity fund. Catrin Einhorn,, 19 Dec. 2022 Questions over how to balance the deal’s ambition with the ability of countries to pay for it generated sharp disagreements at the talks, along with demands to create a new global biodiversity fund. Catrin Einhorn, New York Times, 19 Dec. 2022
But the Kushners’ empire, like Trump’s, was underwritten by years of dealing in much more modestly ambitioned properties. Alec Macgillis/propublica, New York Times, 23 May 2017 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ambition.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History



Middle English ambicioun, borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French ambicion, borrowed from Latin ambitiōn-, ambitiō "act of soliciting for votes, running for public office, striving after popularity, desire for advancement," from ambīre "to encircle, visit in rotation, solicit (political support), seek to obtain" + -tiōn-, -tiō, suffix of verbal action — more at ambient entry 1


derivative of ambition entry 1

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1601, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of ambition was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near ambition

Cite this Entry

“Ambition.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


: an eager desire for social standing, fame, or power
: desire to achieve a particular goal : aspiration
: the particular goal of ambition

More from Merriam-Webster on ambition

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