zeal·​ous ˈze-ləs How to pronounce zealous (audio)
: marked by fervent partisanship for a person, a cause, or an ideal : filled with or characterized by zeal
zealous missionaries
zealously adverb
zealousness noun

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Zealous vs. Jealous

Zealous and jealous share not just a rhyme, but an etymology. Both words ultimately come from the Latin zelus “jealousy,” and in the past their meanings were somewhat closer to each other than they are today. In the 16th and 17th centuries, zealous occasionally was used in biblical writing to refer to a quality of apprehensiveness or jealousy of another. By the 18th century, however, it had completely diverged in meaning from jealous, signifying “warmly engaged or ardent on behalf of someone or something.” Today, zealous often carries a connotation of excessive feeling: it typically means “fiercely partisan” or “uncompromisingly enthusiastic.”

Example Sentences

I was zealous in my demands on my sisters for promptness in rehearsals. I was passionate, intolerant of small talk, hungry for knowledge, grabby, bossy, precocious. Lynn Margulis, Curious Minds, (2004) 2005 Sir Thomas was zealous in the pursuit of recusants, not poachers, and was otherwise an amiable man. S. Schoenbaum, Shakespeare's Lives, 1991 Zealous in his ministerial labours, blameless in his life and habits, he yet did not appear to enjoy that mental serenity, that inward content, which should be the reward of every sincere Christian and practical philanthropist. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847 He had no cause for self-reproach on the score of neglect, or want of thought, for he had been devoted to her service; and yet a hundred little occasions rose up before him, on which he fancied he might have been more zealous, and more earnest, and wished he had been. Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, 1838 The detective was zealous in her pursuit of the kidnappers.
Recent Examples on the Web This means being zealous about cutting out anything extraneous—and keeping it from creeping back in. Jennifer Huang Gil, Forbes, 28 Dec. 2022 The champagne trade association has been zealous — sometimes too much so — in protecting the name for sparkling wine coming from the Champagne region. Dave Mcintyre, Washington Post, 8 Dec. 2022 My goals while visiting the ashram aren’t quite as zealous, just the ability to focus my thoughts instead of flailing about like a live fish pulled from the water. Sara Novak, Discover Magazine, 1 July 2021 But some of his zealous supporters have been less than kind to his girlfriend and collaborator, Olivia Wilde, on social media. Christi Carras, Los Angeles Times, 22 Aug. 2022 Back in the aughts, zealous lenders were giving out mortgages (or better put, subprime mortgages) to folks who historically wouldn’t have qualified. Bylance Lambert, Fortune, 1 Dec. 2022 That is what too many journalists are now — not firefighters, not mediators, not conveyors of vital information, but zealous obscurantists staffing would-be censorship agencies. Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review, 27 Nov. 2022 Expect buyfests, limited parking, very eXcited kids, many invitations, zealous overindulgence, no sleep. Pat Myers, Washington Post, 23 Nov. 2022 Even the most zealous food-waste warriors are reluctant to deal with the mess and smell of rotting food at home, and most home compost systems still need to be emptied at community collection sites to finish the process. Time, 23 Nov. 2022 See More

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

Word History

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of zealous was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near zealous

Cite this Entry

“Zealous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zealous. Accessed 7 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


zeal·​ous ˈzel-əs How to pronounce zealous (audio)
: filled with or showing zeal : marked by passionate support for a person, cause, or ideal
zealously adverb
zealousness noun

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