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See also: Virtue


Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English vertu, virtue, borrowed from Anglo-Norman vertu, virtu, from Latin virtus (manliness, bravery, worth, moral excellence), from vir (man). Doublet of vertu. See virile. In this sense, displaced Old English cræft, whence Modern English craft.



virtue (countable and uncountable, plural virtues)

  1. (uncountable) Accordance with moral principles; conformity of behaviour or thought with the strictures of morality; good moral conduct. [from 13th c.]
    Without virtue, there is no freedom.
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, chapter 1, in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, volumes (please specify |volume=I to VI), London: A[ndrew] Millar, [], →OCLC, book XV:
      There are a set of religious, or rather moral, writers, who teach that virtue is the certain road to happiness, and vice to misery, in this world.
    • 2004 October 1, “Eight-and-a-Half-Tails”, in Champions of Kamigawa, Wizards of the Coast:
      Virtue is an inner light that can prevail in every soul.”
  2. A particular manifestation of moral excellence in a person; an admirable quality. [from 13th c.]
    • 1766, Laurence Sterne, Sermon, section XLIV:
      Some men are modest, and seem to take pains to hide their virtues; and, from a natural distance and reserve in their tempers, scarce suffer their good qualities to be known [] .
  3. Specifically, each of several qualities held to be particularly important, including the four cardinal virtues, the three theological virtues, or the seven virtues opposed to the seven deadly sins. [from 14th c.]
    • 1813, John Fleetwood, The Life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ:
      The divine virtues of truth and equity are the only bands of friendship, the only supports of society.
  4. An inherently advantageous or excellent quality of something or someone; a favourable point, an advantage. [from 14th c.]
    • 1719 May 6 (Gregorian calendar), [Daniel Defoe], The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, [], 3rd edition, London: [] W[illiam] Taylor [], published 1719, →OCLC:
      There were divers other plants, which I had no notion of or understanding about, that might, perhaps, have virtues of their own, which I could not find out.
    • 2011, The Guardian, Letter, 14 Mar 2011:
      One virtue of the present coalition government's attack on access to education could be to reopen the questions raised so pertinently by Robinson in the 1960s [] .
  5. (Christianity) A creature embodying divine power, specifically one of the orders of heavenly beings, traditionally ranked above angels and archangels, and below seraphim and cherubim. [from 14th c.]
    • 1667, John Milton, “Book X”, in Paradise Lost. [], London: [] [Samuel Simmons], [], →OCLC; republished as Paradise Lost in Ten Books: [], London: Basil Montagu Pickering [], 1873, →OCLC:
      Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers; / For in possession such, not only of right, / I call ye, and declare ye now [] .
  6. (uncountable) Specifically, moral conduct in sexual behaviour, especially of women; chastity. [from 17th c.]
    • 1813, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice:
      though she did not suppose Lydia to be deliberately engaging in an elopement without the intention of marriage, she had no difficulty in believing that neither her virtue nor her understanding would preserve her from falling an easy prey.
  7. (obsolete) The inherent power of a god, or other supernatural being. [13th–19th c.]
  8. The inherent power or efficacy of something (now only in phrases). [from 13th c.]
    • 1801, Robert Southey, “(please specify the page)”, in Thalaba the Destroyer, volumes (please specify |volume=I or II), London: [] [F]or T[homas] N[orton] Longman and O[wen] Rees, [], by Biggs and Cottle, [], →OCLC:
      There was a virtue in the wave;
      His limbs, that, stiff with toil,
      Dragg’d heavy, from the copious draught receiv’d
      Lightness and supple strength.
    • 1962, Madeleine L’Engle, “Aunt Beast”, in A Wrinkle in Time, New York, N.Y.: Ariel Books, →OCLC; republished New York, N.Y.: Ariel Books, 1973 printing, →ISBN, page 189:
      Here are the glasses, Meg. But I am afraid that the virtue has gone from them, and now they are only glass. Perhaps they were meant to help once and only on Camazotz.
    • 2011 February 17, “The autumn of the patriarchs”, in The Economist:
      many Egyptians still worry that the Brotherhood, by virtue of discipline and experience, would hold an unfair advantage if elections were held too soon.



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Middle English[edit]



  1. Alternative form of vertu