trag·​e·​dy ˈtra-jə-dē How to pronounce tragedy (audio)
plural tragedies
: a disastrous event : calamity
: a serious drama typically describing a conflict between the protagonist and a superior force (such as destiny) and having a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion that elicits pity or terror
: the literary genre of tragic dramas
: a medieval narrative poem or tale typically describing the downfall of a great man
: tragic quality or element

Examples of tragedy in a Sentence

Her son's death was a terrible tragedy. The situation ended in tragedy when the gunman shot and killed two students. The biggest tragedy here is that the accident could have easily been prevented. “Hamlet” is one of Shakespeare's best-known tragedies. The students are studying Greek tragedy. an actor who is drawn to tragedy See More
Recent Examples on the Web To fail to act, and watch this number increase, would be more than a tragedy. Peter Sands, Forbes, 30 Nov. 2023 Many Muslims or those with family or friends in Gaza, meanwhile, have felt that the horrors and tragedies of Palestinian civilians are being given short shrift. Peter Vanham, Fortune, 29 Nov. 2023 But where some saw evil, depravity and tragedy, media companies saw pay dirt, swooping in with lucrative bids to turn the whole thing into content. Corey Kilgannon, New York Times, 28 Nov. 2023 Indeed, the two greatest eras for Christmas movies came immediately after world-altering tragedies: World War II and 9/11, says Mr. Arnold. Stephen Humphries, The Christian Science Monitor, 28 Nov. 2023 Six months before the events at the Capitol, Pavlik suffered a devastating family tragedy when his only child, Joseph Jr., a Justice police officer and suburban SWAT team member, killed himself, Beaumont wrote. Jason Meisner Chicago Tribune (tns),, 27 Nov. 2023 Why Flags Are Flown at Half-Staff United States flags are lowered to half-staff — or half-mast, on a ship — when the nation is in mourning, often following the death of a government official or military member, in the wake of a deadly attack or public tragedy, or on days of national remembrance. Erin Clack, Peoplemag, 25 Nov. 2023 When Felix threatens to expose him, Oliver turns things into a family tragedy for the Cattons, killing them, one by one. Jazz Tangcay, Variety, 22 Nov. 2023 Then a family tragedy earns Oliver an invite over a school break to Saltburn, the Catton’s extravagant country home. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 22 Nov. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Middle English tragedie, from Middle French, from Latin tragoedia, from Greek tragōidia, from tragos goat (akin to Greek trōgein to gnaw) + aeidein to sing — more at troglodyte, ode

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2c

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

Dictionary Entries Near tragedy

Cite this Entry

“Tragedy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


trag·​e·​dy ˈtraj-əd-ē How to pronounce tragedy (audio)
plural tragedies
: a serious drama with a sorrowful or disastrous conclusion
: a disastrous event

Middle English tragedie "tragedy as a drama," from early French tragedie (same meaning), from Latin tragoedia (same meaning), from Greek tragōidia "a drama about the misfortunes of heroes," literally "goat song," from tragos "goat" and aeidein "to sing"

Word Origin
Tragedy as a form of drama began in ancient Greece. It developed from the public performances of songs and dances at religious festivals. These festivals were held in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility. The Greeks called these performances tragōidia, which meant literally "goat song." The word came from tragos, meaning "goat" and aeidein, meaning "to sing." These performances were at first given by a chorus. Later, however, it became popular to have one member of the chorus stand apart from the others and give a spoken introduction to or interpretation of the story. This speaker soon took over a larger and larger role in the performances. In time, this person was joined by more speakers until the dramas came to be like our modern plays with many parts acted out. It is not certain why these performances were named with a word for "goat." One explanation is that a goat was given as a prize to the person presenting the best drama. Another is that the goat was sacred to the god Dionysus and was sacrificed to him at these festivals. The early tragedies were stories of the misfortunes of heroes of legend or history, and that idea of misfortune carries on today in the common meaning of our word tragedy.

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