Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search
See also: Earnest



Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English ernest, eornest, from Old English eornest, eornost, eornust (earnestness, zeal, seriousness, battle), from Proto-Germanic *ernustuz (earnest, strength, solidity, struggle, fight), a derivative of Proto-Germanic *arniz (efficient, capable, diligent, sure), from Proto-Indo-European *er- (to cause to move, arouse, increase). Cognate with West Frisian earnst (earnest, seriousness), Dutch ernst (seriousness, gravity, earnest), German Ernst (seriousness, earnestness, zeal, vigour), Icelandic ern (brisk, vigorous), Gothic 𐌰𐍂𐌽𐌹𐌱𐌰 (arniba, secure, certain, sure).

The adjective is from Middle English eornest, from Old English eornoste (earnest, zealous, serious), from the noun. Cognate with North Frisian ernste (earnest), Middle Low German ernest, ernst (serious, earnest), German ernst (serious, earnest).


earnest (uncountable)

  1. Gravity; serious purpose; earnestness.
    • 1914, February 13, The Times, Obituary: Canon Augustus Jessopp
      He wrote well in a forcible, colloquial style, with the air of being tremendously in earnest, and full of knowledge which overflowed his pages, tricked out with somewhat boisterous illustrations.
    • c. 1575-a 1586, Sir Philip Sidney, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia
      Take heed that this jest do not one day turn to earnest.
    • c. 1592, William Shakespeare, Richard III: Act 5, Scene 1
      That high All-Seer which I dallied with
      Hath turn'd my feigned prayer on my head
      And given in earnest what I begg'd in jest.
  2. Seriousness; reality; actuality (as opposed to joking or pretence)
Derived terms[edit]


earnest (third-person singular simple present earnests, present participle earnesting, simple past and past participle earnested)

  1. (transitive) To be serious with; use in earnest.
    • 1602, Pastor Fido:
      Let's prove among ourselves our armes in jest, That when we come to earnest them with men, We may them better use.


earnest (comparative earnester or more earnest, superlative earnestest or most earnest)

  1. (said of an action or an utterance) Serious or honest
  2. (with a positive sense) Focused in the pursuit of an objective; eager to obtain or do.
    earnest prayers
  3. Intent; focused; showing a lot of concentration.
    earnest attention.
  4. (said of a person or a person's character) Possessing or characterised by seriousness.
    an earnest disposition
  5. Strenuous; diligent.
    earnest efforts
  6. Serious; weighty; of a serious, weighty, or important nature; important.
Derived terms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

Of uncertain origin; apparently related to erres. Compare also arles.


earnest (plural earnests)

  1. A sum of money paid in advance as a deposit; hence, a pledge, a guarantee, an indication of something to come.
    • KJV, 2 Corinthians 5:5
      Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.
    • 1990, Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game, Folio Society 2010, p. 365:
      But if all this was viewed by Gladstone and the Cabinet as an earnest of St Petersburg's future good intentions in Central Asia, then disillusionment was soon to follow.

See also[edit]

Etymology 3[edit]

earn +‎ -est



  1. (archaic) second-person singular simple present form of earn