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an·​cient ˈān(t)-shənt How to pronounce ancient (audio)
: having had an existence of many years
ancient customs
: of or relating to a remote period, to a time early in history, or to those living in such a period or time
ancient Egyptians
especially : of or relating to the historical period beginning with the earliest known civilizations and extending to the fall of the western Roman Empire in a.d. 476
studied both ancient and modern history
: having the qualities of age or long existence: such as
ancientness noun


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noun (1)

: a person who lived in ancient times:
ancients plural : the civilized people of antiquity
especially : those of the classical nations (see classical sense 2a)
: one of the classical authors
Plutarch and other ancients
: an aged living being
a penniless ancient
: an ancient coin


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noun (2)

archaic : ensign, standard, flag
obsolete : the bearer of an ensign
Choose the Right Synonym for ancient

old, ancient, venerable, antique, antiquated, archaic, obsolete mean having come into existence or use in the more or less distant past.

old may apply to either actual or merely relative length of existence.

old houses
an old sweater of mine

ancient applies to occurrence, existence, or use in or survival from the distant past.

ancient accounts of dragons

venerable stresses the impressiveness and dignity of great age.

the family's venerable patriarch

antique applies to what has come down from a former or ancient time.

collected antique Chippendale furniture

antiquated implies being discredited or outmoded or otherwise inappropriate to the present time.

antiquated teaching methods

archaic implies having the character or characteristics of a much earlier time.

the play used archaic language to convey a sense of period

obsolete may apply to something regarded as no longer acceptable or useful even though it is still in existence.

a computer that makes earlier models obsolete

Examples of ancient in a Sentence

Adjective The people in the village still observe the ancient customs of their ancestors. a grove of ancient oak trees The practice was more common in ancient times than it is now. the gods of the ancient Romans She studied both ancient and modern history.
Recent Examples on the Web
Rebel groups, often delineated along ethnic lines, have sought autonomy from a state that was stitched together by the British Empire, unifying distinct ancient kingdoms. WIRED, 29 Sep. 2023 Some are ancient and some are modern imitations, while some feature classical figures or animals. Patrick Smith, NBC News, 28 Sep. 2023 The process has been shocking to many Armenians, who consider Nagorno-Karabakh their ancient ancestral homeland. Ivan Nechepurenko, New York Times, 28 Sep. 2023 The researchers discovered the trilobite’s nearly intact gut—the first of its kind in the fossil record—stuffed with the shelly remnants of an ancient seafood feast, revealing that B. incola was not a picky eater. Jack Tamisiea, Scientific American, 28 Sep. 2023 Steinhauer’s campaign wants to move away from the recent past (the war) and instead bridge this new generation of Vietnamese Americans to an ancient past — to the legends of moons and farmers, the beauty of the land, the traditions of ceremonies. Petula Dvorak, Washington Post, 28 Sep. 2023 The individual, who remains unidentified, used a dolly and ropes to remove the statue from among hundreds of other ancient art pieces housed at the gallery and into the van before driving away. Jeremy Childs, Los Angeles Times, 28 Sep. 2023 The Khao Klang Nok monument in Si Thep, an ancient town 150 miles north of Bangkok, has survived more than a thousand years as kingdoms and empires rose and fell around it. Time, 28 Sep. 2023 From Sunday through Thursday, quotations about democracy — selected by Holzer and dating back to ancient times — will be beamed onto the exteriors of the Hirshhorn and the National Museum of American History from dusk to 11 p.m. Olivia McCormack, Washington Post, 14 Sep. 2023
Yet not only is there no Vena amoris (as it was dubbed), but there’s also little evidence to support the idea of ancients routinely wearing engagement rings. Katy Kelleher,, 2 May 2023 See More

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

Word History


Adjective and Noun (1)

Middle English ancien, from Anglo-French, from Vulgar Latin *anteanus, from Latin ante before — more at ante-

Noun (2)

alteration of ensign

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun (1)

1502, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Noun (2)

circa 1556, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of ancient was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near ancient

Cite this Entry

“Ancient.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
an·​cient ˈān-shənt How to pronounce ancient (audio)
: having existed for many years
ancient customs
: of or relating to a period of time long past
ancientness noun


2 of 2 noun
: an aged person
plural : the civilized peoples of ancient times and especially of Greece and Rome

Legal Definition


: existing from a long past date
specifically : having had an uninterrupted existence of 20 to 30 or more years

Note: Things and especially documents that are ancient benefit from a presumption that they are valid even though proof of their validity may be unavailable due to lapse of memory, absence of witnesses, or loss of documents.

More from Merriam-Webster on ancient

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