os·​ten·​si·​ble ä-ˈsten(t)-sə-bəl How to pronounce ostensible (audio)
: intended for display : open to view
: being such in appearance : plausible rather than demonstrably true or real
the ostensible purpose for the trip

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Ostensible comes from Latin ostendere, meaning "to show," and the word suggests a discrepancy between a declared or implied aim or reason and the true one.

Choose the Right Synonym for ostensible

apparent, illusory, seeming, ostensible mean not actually being what appearance indicates.

apparent suggests appearance to unaided senses that may or may not be borne out by more rigorous examination or greater knowledge.

the apparent cause of the accident

illusory implies a false impression based on deceptive resemblance or faulty observation, or influenced by emotions that prevent a clear view.

an illusory sense of security

seeming implies a character in the thing observed that gives it the appearance, sometimes through intent, of something else.

the seeming simplicity of the story

ostensible suggests a discrepancy between an openly declared or naturally implied aim or reason and the true one.

the ostensible reason for their visit

Examples of ostensible in a Sentence

That intelligence and those facts, of course, all pertained to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, the war's ostensible casus belli, which we now know did not exist. Frank Rich, New York Review, 6 Apr. 2006
To listen again to "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do"—probably the most relentlessly cheerful song ever written on the ostensible theme of misery—is at once to admire its delicately judged textures and Swiss-watch precision … Geoffrey O'Brien, New York Review of Books, 15 Dec. 2005
Its ostensible subject is America's murderous gun culture. Its real subject, of course, is the ravenous ego of its director-star, Michael Moore. Scott Berg, Time, 14 July 2003
It's a snarky, glory-thieving place, the world of big-bucks political fund raising. Ostensible grownups can be reduced to screaming toddlers over who gets the credit for bringing in a major donor's gift … Viveca Novak, Time, 14 June 1999
the ostensible reason for the meeting turned out to be a trick to get him to the surprise party
Recent Examples on the Web Likewise, his camera often omits the computers themselves, the ostensible subject of his images. Lucy McKeon, New York Times, 3 June 2024 To mark the ostensible 40th anniversary of Chicago house music, Derrick Carter and DJ Heather will headline a free event at Chicago’s Daley Plaza, which begins at noon on May 29. Kory Grow, Rolling Stone, 15 May 2024 Though the movie’s ostensible star was Tom Hardy, as the reincarnation of Gibson’s Max Rockatansky, Theron gave the film its glamorous sandstorm grit. Stephanie Zacharek, TIME, 15 May 2024 The organizers created a publicly accessible forum to discuss next steps, and a couple of attendees spoke to a reporter from the Times, despite the mainstream media’s ostensible complicity in the coverup. Manvir Singh, The New Yorker, 15 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for ostensible 

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

Word History


French, from Latin ostensus, past participle of ostendere to show, from obs-, ob- in the way + tendere to stretch — more at ob-, thin

First Known Use

circa 1771, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of ostensible was circa 1771


Dictionary Entries Near ostensible

Cite this Entry

“Ostensible.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ostensible. Accessed 17 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


os·​ten·​si·​ble ä-ˈsten(t)-sə-bəl How to pronounce ostensible (audio)
: shown outwardly : apparent
the ostensible purpose of his visit

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