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erst (first, formerly) +‎ while


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈɜː(ɹ)st.waɪl/
    • (file)
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈɝst.waɪl/


erstwhile (not comparable)

  1. (archaic) Formerly; in the past.




erstwhile (not comparable)

  1. (literary, law or India) Former, previous.
    Synonyms: former, once, previous, quondam, onetime; see also Thesaurus:former
    • 1904–1905, Baroness Orczy [i.e., Emma Orczy], “The Disappearance of Count Collini”, in The Case of Miss Elliott, London: T[homas] Fisher Unwin, published 1905, →OCLC; republished as popular edition, London: Greening & Co., 1909, OCLC 11192831, quoted in The Case of Miss Elliott (ebook no. 2000141h.html), Australia: Project Gutenberg of Australia, February 2020:
      “Scarcely had Alice reached her twentieth birthday, than she gave her erstwhile fiancée[sic] his formal congé. []
    • 1964 November, P. F. Winding, “Re-shaping the LMR's North Western Line - 2”, in Modern Railways, page 343:
      As an aftermath of the erstwhile competition between companies, 41 goods depots served the Liverpool and Birkenhead docks in 1923.
    • 2017 October 14, Paul Doyle, “Mauricio Pellegrino yet to find attacking solution for stuttering Southampton”, in the Guardian[1]:
      Other erstwhile stalwarts are also wavering. Southampton had two of the best full-backs in the league last season but Ryan Bertrand has been below par this season and Cédric Soares made an uncharacteristic lapse that led to Stoke’s winning goal in Southampton’s last outing.
  2. (proscribed) Respected, honourable.
    • 1999 November 1, Frank Bruni, quoting George W. Bush, “For Bush, an Adjustable Speech Of Tested Themes and Phrases”, in New York Times[2]:
      If you're for one of my erstwhile opponents, that's O.K. Just don't work too hard.

Usage notes[edit]

The use of erstwhile to mean “respected” stems from a conflation with esteemed in phrases such as erstwhile colleague and is proscribed by most authorities.[1][2]



  1. ^ 2005, May 21, Ruth Wajnryb, Erstwhile errors in do-it-yourself English, Sydney Morning Herald.
  2. ^ 2003, July 4, Jed Hartman, Words easily confused #7