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leav·​en ˈle-vən How to pronounce leaven (audio)
: a substance (such as yeast) used to produce fermentation in dough or a liquid
especially : sourdough
: a material (such as baking powder) used to produce a gas that lightens dough or batter
: something that modifies or lightens


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leavened; leavening ˈlev-niŋ How to pronounce leaven (audio)

transitive verb

: to raise (something, such as bread) with a leaven
: to mingle or permeate with some modifying, alleviating, or vivifying element
especially : lighten
a sermon leavened with humor
Choose the Right Synonym for leaven

infuse, suffuse, imbue, ingrain, inoculate, leaven mean to introduce one thing into another so as to affect it throughout.

infuse implies a pouring in of something that gives new life or significance.

new members infused enthusiasm into the club

suffuse implies a spreading through of something that gives an unusual color or quality.

a room suffused with light

imbue implies the introduction of a quality that fills and permeates the whole being.

imbue students with intellectual curiosity

ingrain, used only in the passive or past participle, suggests the deep implanting of a quality or trait.

clung to ingrained habits

inoculate implies an imbuing or implanting with a germinal idea and often suggests stealth or subtlety.

an electorate inoculated with dangerous ideas

leaven implies introducing something that enlivens, tempers, or markedly alters the total quality.

a serious play leavened with comic moments

Example Sentences

Noun a serious book that includes a few humorous stories as leaven Verb He needs to leaven his speeches with more humor. using yeast to leaven the dough
Recent Examples on the Web
Some are growing sourdough starters — the living, microbial goop that helps leaven bread and delivers a characteristic tangy flavor. Leslie Nemo, Discover Magazine, 6 May 2020 All the more reason, therefore, for the one person uniquely positioned to be a lever for peace, and leaven of justice, to act. Tim Kelleher, National Review, 3 Mar. 2022 Pulque would supply a baker with an abundance of yeasts to leaven bread. Los Angeles Times, 17 Mar. 2022 Having faith that we are created beings made for more than our jobs and presidential elections makes things like virtue and the Beatitudes leaven in our mess of the world. Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review, 28 Feb. 2022 Larger, more opulent parades will follow in February as Mardi Gras nears and the city attempts to leaven the season's joy with caution. Kevin Mcgill, ajc, 6 Jan. 2022 But touches like the Ron Swanson leaven the deep thoughts with a little fun. al, 7 Sep. 2021 During the seven or eight-day festival, all leaven, in bread or otherwise, is prohibited, and only matzo — unleavened bread — may be eaten, which symbolizes Hebrew suffering while in slavery and their ensuing deliverance and exodus. Andre Toran, The Courier-Journal, 25 Mar. 2021 To leaven the choice, Bush designated Bob Teeter to be deputy chief of staff. Tevi Troy, Washington Examiner, 18 Feb. 2021 See More

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

Word History



Middle English levain, from Anglo-French levein, from Vulgar Latin *levamen, from Latin levare to raise — more at lever

First Known Use


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


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near leaven

Cite this Entry

“Leaven.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/leaven. Accessed 8 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
leav·​en ˈlev-ən How to pronounce leaven (audio)
: a substance (as yeast) used to produce a gaseous fermentation (as in dough)
: a material (as baking powder) used to produce a gas that makes dough or batter rise and become light
: something that changes slightly or lightens a mass or whole


2 of 2 verb
leavened; leavening ˈlev-(ə-)niŋ How to pronounce leaven (audio)
: to raise (dough) with a leaven
: to mix or spread throughout with leaven

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