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From Middle French pretensse, from Late Latin praetēnsus (past participle of praetendō (to pretend), from prae- (before) + tendō (to stretch)).


  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈpɹiːtɛns/
    • (file)
  • (UK) IPA(key): /pɹɪˈtɛns/
  • Hyphenation: pre‧tence


pretence (countable and uncountable, plural pretences)

  1. (British spelling) An act of pretending or pretension; a false claim or pretext.
    • 1771, [Oliver] Goldsmith, “George II. (Continued.)”, in The History of England, from the Earliest Times to the Death of George II. [], volume IV, London: [] T[homas] Davies, []; [T.] Becket and [P. A.] De Hondt; and T[homas] Cadell, [], →OCLC, pages 365–366:
      Great armaments were, therefore, put on foot in Moravia and Bohemia, while the elector of Saxony, under a pretence of military parade, drew together about ſixteen thouſand men, which were poſted in a ſtrong ſituation at Pirna.
    • 1915, G[eorge] A. Birmingham [pseudonym; James Owen Hannay], chapter I, in Gossamer, New York, N.Y.: George H. Doran Company, →OCLC, pages 10–11:
      There is an hour or two, after the passengers have embarked, which is disquieting and fussy. [...] Passengers wander restlessly about or hurry, with futile energy, from place to place. Pushing men hustle each other at the windows of the purser's office, under pretence of expecting letters or despatching telegrams.
    • 1995, Charlie Lewis, Peter Mitchell, Children′s Early Understanding Of Mind: Origins And Development, page 281:
      In pilot work we have used the method described in Experiment 2 on children′s memory for the content of their own false beliefs and pretence and asked them to differentiate between belief and pretence.
    • 2005, Plato, translated by Lesley Brown, Sophist, page 231b:
      That part of education that turned up in the latest phase of our argument, the cross-examination of the empty pretence of wisdom, is none other, we must declare, than the true-blooded kind of sophistry.
  2. Something asserted or alleged on slight evidence; an unwarranted assumption.
    • 1899 September – 1900 July, Joseph Conrad, chapter II, in Lord Jim: A Tale, Edinburgh, London: William Blackwood and Sons, published 1900, →OCLC, page 9:
      He was gentlemanly, steady, tractable, with a thorough knowledge of his duties; and in time, when yet very young, he became chief mate of a fine ship, without ever having been tested by those events of the sea that show in the light of day the inner worth of a man, the edge of his temper, and the fibre of his stuff; that reveal the quality of his resistance and the secret truth of his pretences, not only to others but also to himself.
  3. (obsolete) Intention; design.

Derived terms[edit]