\ ˈstərn How to pronounce stern (audio) \

Definition of stern

 (Entry 1 of 4)

1a : having a definite hardness or severity of nature or manner : austere
b : expressive of severe displeasure : harsh
2 : forbidding or gloomy in appearance
3 : inexorable stern necessity
4 : sturdy, stout a stern resolve



Definition of stern (Entry 2 of 4)

1 : the rear end of a boat
2 : a hinder or rear part : the last or latter part


biographical name (1)
\ ˈstərn How to pronounce Stern (audio) \

Definition of Stern (Entry 3 of 4)

Isaac 1920–2001 American (Russian-born) violinist


biographical name (2)

Definition of Stern (Entry 4 of 4)

Otto 1888–1969 American (German-born) physicist

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Other Words from stern


sternly adverb
sternness \ ˈstərn-​nəs How to pronounce Stern (audio) \ noun

Choose the Right Synonym for stern


severe, stern, austere, ascetic mean given to or marked by strict discipline and firm restraint. severe implies standards enforced without indulgence or laxity and may suggest harshness. severe military discipline stern stresses inflexibility and inexorability of temper or character. stern arbiters of public morality austere stresses absence of warmth, color, or feeling and may apply to rigorous restraint, simplicity, or self-denial. living an austere life in the country ascetic implies abstention from pleasure and comfort or self-indulgence as spiritual discipline. the ascetic life of the monks

Examples of stern in a Sentence

Adjective He gave me a stern look. the army post's stern commander always had the utmost respect of those who served under him
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective His comment prompted a stern warning from the People's Republic of China, which considers the self-governing island a breakaway province, especially since Biden has made it twice now in the last couple of months. Conor Finnegan, ABC News, 22 Oct. 2021 The instructions page takes 900 words to detail requirements, exceptions, and a stern warning about legal penalties for submitting any misleading data. Anne Quito, Quartz, 18 Oct. 2021 In that same episode, Greg gets a stern warning from his grandfather Ewan Roy (James Cromwell, wonderfully imperious). Kristen Baldwin,, 4 Oct. 2021 In an otherwise routine press release, Kristina Littman, the SEC Enforcement Division’s Cyber Unit Chief, delivered a stern warning to boards, c-suites and tech leaders. Noah Barsky, Forbes, 31 Aug. 2021 The stern warning from the Drug Enforcement Administration to law enforcement agencies nationwide first came in 2015: Beware of fentanyl. Teri Figueroa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 29 Aug. 2021 Other school districts across the nation have followed suit in issuing stern warnings against the challenge and giving teachers a heads-up. Asha C. Gilbert, USA TODAY, 9 Oct. 2021 Three years ago, Nelson issued a stern, uncompromising lecture — for members, media and others — to use the faith’s full name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Salt Lake Tribune, 3 Oct. 2021 The announcement on Thursday came the same day Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Allen and other health officials repeated stern warnings about the state of the pandemic in Oregon, as the delta variant tears through the unvaccinated population. Staff And News-review Reports, oregonlive, 19 Aug. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun There’s no other word but commanding—while still being elegant and simple—for that stern. Michael Verdon, Robb Report, 24 Sep. 2021 And the aircraft will sport a different coat of paint on the outside, with markings of a swirl found on the bow and stern of the Viking Oesberg ship. Sophie Mellor, Fortune, 22 Sep. 2021 Kiana James and Sydney Pratt, two college friends from New Jersey, took pictures and danced on the boat’s stern. New York Times, 8 Aug. 2021 The ship's stern was freed Sunday, and the bow was removed from the canal bank Monday. John Bacon, USA TODAY, 30 Mar. 2021 The ship's stern was freed first Sunday, and the bow was removed from the canal bank Monday. USA Today, 29 Mar. 2021 Greg Bombard, president of Catalina Express, told reporters that deckhands saw the man go overboard from the stern of the vessel. Andrea Castillo, Los Angeles Times, 12 June 2021 Aerial images showed the separated stern of the Crimson Polaris tipped upwards and the other part of the stricken boat listing into the sea. Zoe Christen Jones, CBS News, 12 Aug. 2021 The helm did have a manual backup system: two men sweating in a compartment in the stern of the ship, exerting all their might to move the unyielding rudder even an inch. Annie Murphy Paul, Wired, 15 June 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'stern.' 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 stern


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for stern


Middle English sterne, from Old English styrne; akin to Old English starian to stare — more at stare


Middle English, rudder, probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse stjōrn steering, rudder; akin to Old English stīeran to steer — more at steer

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The first known use of stern was before the 12th century

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Last Updated

26 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Stern.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for stern



English Language Learners Definition of stern

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: very serious especially in an unfriendly way
: expressing strong disapproval or criticism
: not likely to change or become weaker



English Language Learners Definition of stern (Entry 2 of 2)

: the back part of a boat or ship


\ ˈstərn How to pronounce stern (audio) \
sterner; sternest

Kids Definition of stern

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : hard and severe in nature or manner : very strict and serious a stern judge a stern warning
2 : showing severe displeasure or disapproval The elder's stern expression softened.— Brian Jacques, Redwall
3 : firm and not changeable She showed stern determination to succeed.

Other Words from stern

sternly adverb speak sternly



Kids Definition of stern (Entry 2 of 2)

: the rear end of a boat

More from Merriam-Webster on stern

Nglish: Translation of stern for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of stern for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about stern


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