The Meaning of Earnest: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of earnest? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word earnest, including its definition, usage, word origin, and more!

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What does the word earnest mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, the American Heritage Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, and Collins English Dictionary, the word earnest can be used as an adjective or a noun. As an adjective, the word earnest describes someone or something that is characterized by an intense, sincere and serious state of mind. Earnest can also mean grave or important. As a noun, earnest can refer to a serious mental state or some considerable or impressive degree or amount, usually in relation to a sum of money. It can also refer to some  portion of something, given or done in advance as a pledge of the remainder or guarantee of the remainder.Earnest has two syllables  – ear-nest, and the pronunciation of earnest is ˈər-nəst.

Things and people that are earnest have sincerity or gravity, not frivolity. If someone says something in earnest, this shows that they are providing assurance of their sincerity or a humorless belief in the validity of your opinions. Earnestness implies a genuineness, seriousness of attitude, quality of determination and trustworthiness, soberness of attitude, and the absence of superficiality. If someone is earnest, they have sincere interest in the actuality and important nature of the situation. Doing something in earnest or with serious attention means that you take on the hearty endeavor with serious purpose.

Many different languages also contain words that mean earnest. You may find that many of these translations of earnest look and sound similar. These are called cognates, which are often formed when two words in different languages have the same root or language of origin. This list of translations for the word earnest is provided by Word Sense.

  •  Italian: serio‎, grave‎
  •  Irish: dáiríre‎
  •  Belarusian: сур’ёзны‎
  •  Spanish: serio‎
  •  Mandarin: 認真‎, 认真‎ (rènzhēn), 嚴重‎, 严重‎ (yánzhòng), 沉重‎ (chénzhòng)
  •  Portuguese: sério‎ (masc.), sincero‎ (masc.)
  •  Hungarian: komoly‎, súlyos‎
  •  Bulgarian: сериозен‎
  •  Romanian: serios‎
  •  Catalan: seriós‎
  •  German: ernst‎, ernsthaft‎, aufrichtig‎
  •  Serbo-Croatian: ȍzbīljan‎, vážan‎, znȁčājan‎
  •  French: sérieux‎, grave‎
  •  Turkish: ciddi‎
  •  Arabic: جَدِّي‎, جَادّ‎
  •  Czech: vážný‎
  •  Japanese: 真面目‎, 真剣‎ (しんけん, shinken), 本気‎ (ほんき, honki)
  •  Russian: серьёзный‎, убедительный‎

How can the word earnest be used in a sentence?

The word earnest can be used in many different ways in the English language. Below are a few different examples of earnest. 

Before his son journeyed on the hearty endeavour to change the mind of the cruel tyrant, Handsel gave earnest prayers. It was his dearest wish and most devout witches that his son would return home safely.

He made a promise to return the earnest money he had found, and was given a nominal sum of money as a way of token of gratitude.

The earnest worker provided the buyer with a bargain, and the shopper applauded his good sense  and earnest words.

He paid earnest attention to the devout wishes, heartfelt condolences, and solemn social message he received after the news. He took this earnest attention and said a prayer.

What is the origin of the word earnest?

According to Etymonline, the word earnest has been used since the early c14 as the Middle English ernest and Old English eornoste. These come from the Old English eornost, a noun meaning of serious intent. This meaning only survives in the phrase “in earnest.” These come from the Proto-Germanic er-n-os-ti which is also the source of the Old Saxon ernust, Greek arrabon Old Frisian ernst, High German ernust seriousness, Middle Low German and Old High German arnust seriousness, German Ernst, Gothic arniba, and Old Norse ern, and arles. These may have come from the Proto-Indo-European root er meaning to move. One can add the suffixes ly and ness to form the related words earnestly (adv.) and earnestness (n.). The noun earnest has been used since early c15 from the Middle English ernes. These come from the alteration of Old French erres pledges (plural of erre) and the Latin arr and Latin arra/Latin arrha, short for arrabō pledge (perhaps by using -bō as a future tense) and are of uncertain origin but likely of Phoenician or Semitic roots like the Hebrew ērābhōn security or ērābhōn pledge. These have also been seen in Middle English as erness, which could imply it comes from the prefix er and the suffix ness.

What are synonyms and antonyms of the word earnest?

There are many different words that can be used in place of the word earnest, called synonyms. Synonyms are words and sometimes phrases that have the same definition as another word or phrase. Learning synonyms is a great way to avoid repeating yourself as well as expand your English language vocabulary. This list of synonyms of earnest is provided by Thesaurus

  •  steady
  •  somber
  •  enthusiastic
  •  sedulous
  •  heartfelt
  •  fixed
  •  urgent
  •  vehement
  •  keen
  •  perseverant
  •  diligent
  •  for real
  •  no-fooling
  •  mean business
  •  determined
  •  industrious
  •  fervid
  •  thoughtful
  •  busy
  •  solemn
  •  meaningful
  •  impassioned
  •  sincere
  •  weighty
  •  resolved
  •  wholehearted
  •  intent
  •  playing hard ball
  •  zeal
  •  sober
  •  no-nonsense
  •  fervent
  •  purposeful
  •  ardent
  •  devoted
  •  stable
  •  grave
  •  sedate
  •  zealous
  •  firm
  •  constant
  •  passionate
  •  staid
  •  eager
  •  warm
  •  resolute
  •  close

There are also several words that mean the opposite of earnest. These opposite words are known as antonyms, which are another quick and easy way to expand your vocabulary. This list of antonyms of earnest is also provided by Thesaurus.

  •  untruthful
  •  slick
  •  hollow
  •  ambidextrous
  •  put-on
  •  shifty
  •  double
  •  insincere
  •  two-faced
  •  backhanded
  •  pretentious
  •  false
  •  dissimulating
  •  unfaithful
  •  pretended
  •  sly
  •  dishonest
  •  fake
  •  snide
  •  devious
  •  double-dealing
  •  gaiety
  •  hypocritical
  •  mendacious
  •  faithless
  •  perfidious
  •  lying
  •  deceptive
  •  dissembling
  •  duplicitous
  •  disingenuous
  •  deceitful
  •  evasive
  •  phony

Overall, the word earnest means serious or sincere. This can also be used as a noun to refer to a serious mental state or sum of money.


  1. earnest | Origin and meaning of earnest | Online Etymology Dictionary 
  2. EARNEST Synonyms: 86 Synonyms & Antonyms for EARNEST | Thesaurus 
  3. INSINCERE Synonyms: 47 Synonyms & Antonyms for INSINCERE | Thesaurus
  4. Earnest | Definition of Earnest | Merriam-Webster