pre·​tense | \ ˈprē-ˌten(t)s How to pronounce pretense (audio) , pri-ˈten(t)s \
variants: or pretence

Definition of pretense

1 : a claim made or implied especially : one not supported by fact
2a : mere ostentation : pretentiousness confuse dignity with pomposity and pretense— Bennett Cerf
b : a pretentious act or assertion
3 : an inadequate or insincere attempt to attain a certain condition or quality
4 : professed rather than real intention or purpose : pretext was there under false pretenses
6 : false show : simulation saw through his pretense of indifference

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Examples of pretense in a Sentence

We tried to keep up the pretense that everything was fine. Their indifference is merely pretense.
Recent Examples on the Web With the benefit gone, the pretense became pointless. Milton Ezrati, Forbes, 11 Oct. 2021 But for all the pretense of transparency, Facebook rarely walks the talk. Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz, 6 Oct. 2021 Perhaps the next installment could do away with the pretense of these dingbats needing to save the world? Joey Nolfi,, 30 Sep. 2021 Surviving as an ordinary working man and maintaining the pretense of being happily married have long required Douglas to be a performer of sorts. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 22 Sep. 2021 In many cases, such leaders retain the pretense of democratic elections, but the vote is manipulated, the courts and the media are controlled, and political opponents are targeted., 11 Aug. 2021 The way to effectively communicate a system that does not make sense is to do away with the pretense of sense itself. Hannah Williams, The Atlantic, 11 Aug. 2021 The political showdown risks turning into a security crisis, experts say, and has blown up any pretense that Somalia’s federal government is functioning. Washington Post, 18 Sep. 2021 At midnight, the Wonderland people scraped together $400, and Holmes, whose pretense for entrance would be buying drugs, drove off to Nash’s house. Mike Sager, Rolling Stone, 17 Sep. 2021

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

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First Known Use of pretense

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for pretense

Middle English, probably modification of Medieval Latin pretensio, irregular from Latin praetendere

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Time Traveler for pretense

Time Traveler

The first known use of pretense was in the 15th century

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Dictionary Entries Near pretense

pretend to (something)



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Last Updated

14 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Pretense.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for pretense



English Language Learners Definition of pretense

: a false reason or explanation that is used to hide the real purpose of something : pretext
: an act or appearance that looks real but is false
: a claim of having a particular quality, ability, condition, etc.


variants: or pretence \ ˈprē-​ˌtens , pri-​ˈtens \

Kids Definition of pretense

1 : an act or appearance that looks real but is false He made a pretense of studying.
2 : an effort to reach a certain condition or quality His report makes no pretense at completeness.

More from Merriam-Webster on pretense

Nglish: Translation of pretense for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of pretense for Arabic Speakers


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