Neanderthal Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

Do you know the meaning of neanderthal? Don’t worry; we’re here to help. Read on as we explore the term to uncover its definition and origin.

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Did you know that most human beings that walk the earth have about 3 percent Neanderthal DNA? Sometime around 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals and ancient humans are said to have reproduced, resulting in the exchange of DNA.  

That said, what does the term neanderthal mean? We’ll tell you. 

Read on to discover everything you need to know about the word neanderthal, including its definition, origin, and more. 

What Is the Definition of Neanderthal?

When looking to understand a term, it can be extremely helpful to review many definitions instead of just one. So, to start our journey in understanding the word neanderthal, we’ve gathered a few definitions and have them listed below: 

  • According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a neanderthal is very old-fashioned and unwilling to change. 
  • The Oxford English Dictionary suggests neanderthal refers to a type of human being who relied on stone tools and resided in Europe during the early period of human history.
  • When used to describe a person’s ideas or ways of behaving as “neanderthal,” the Collins Dictionary says you disapprove of them because they are uncivilized.

As you can see, the definition of neanderthal isn’t exactly cut-and-dry. Not only does the term have more than one meaning, but it can also be used as both a noun and an adjective. 

Neanderthal as a Noun

First things first, what’s a noun?

A noun is a word that refers to a person, place, thing, or idea. 

So, neanderthal as a noun is defined as an extinct species of human known for having a receding forehead and prominent brow ridges that was widely distributed in ice-age Europe between c.120,000 to 35,000 years ago.

In other words, the noun neanderthal simply refers to a type of early human being that lived a very long time ago. 

Neanderthal as an Adjective

On the flip side, an adjective is a word that describes or modifies a noun. 

When defining neanderthal as an adjective, it simply means relating to Neanderthals. So, with that in mind, neanderthal can refer to a person with very old-fashioned ideas or describe an ill-mannered and course person in behavior or appearance. 

What is the Origin of Neanderthal?

The word Neanderthal dates back to the mid-19th century when it was first recorded as the name of a valley in Germany (now Neandertal), near Düsseldorf, where humanoid fossils were first discovered in 1856. 

The name given to the Neander valley is from the Graecized form of Joachim Neumann (literally “new man,” from the Greek neo-ander). 

Eventually, neanderthal was no longer used solely to refer to the distinct species who lived hundreds of years ago. By 1915, neanderthal was also used to describe a big, brutish, and stupid person. In other words, the term neanderthal became popular slang, particularly in British culture.

Examples of Neanderthal in a Sentence

Now that you understand what neanderthal means, it’s time to practice using it in a sentence. Through repetitive practice, the word neanderthal will be a part of your everyday vocabulary in no time! 

To get you started, we’ve put together several examples and have them below: 

Did you know that Neanderthal people lived in Europe, Africa, and parts of western Asia between 35,000 and 70,000 years ago?

I can’t believe I was married to that Neanderthal for ten years.

The Neanderthal man killed woolly mammoths, reindeer, bison, and bear.

Despite being apex predators, neanderthals competed with cave beasts, such as lions, tigers, and bears.

His behavior was so erratic that I’m honestly not surprised she called him a neanderthal.

It’s crazy to think that neanderthals and early modern humans coexisted for quite some time.

Don’t be such a neanderthal and brush your teeth.

The recent discovery of a neanderthal skull and skeleton in France is huge news!

To learn about the past, scientists extracted the complete Neanderthal genome from neanderthal fossils.

Additional Terminology You Should Know 

As you continue your journey in learning about the word neanderthal, you’ll likely come across new terminology that may cause some confusion. So before we part ways, we’ve put together a list of words and their definitions for you to review:

  • Homo Neanderthalensis — or “homo sapiens neanderthalensis” is an extinct species or subspecies of archaic humans who lived in Eurasia many years ago. 
  • Pleistocene Epoch — a geological time period that includes the last ice age, when glaciers covered huge parts of the globe. 
  • Homo antecessor — is an archaic human species that was first discovered in the Atapuerca mountains of Spain.
  • Artefacts — an object made by a human being, typically an item of cultural or historical interest.
  • Homo Heidelbergensis — is an extinct species or subspecies of the human lineage that existed during the Middle Pleistocene. 
  • Climate Change — refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.
  • Extinction — is the complete disappearance of a species from Earth.
  • Denisovans — or Denisova hominins are an extinct archaic human species that ranged across Asia during the Lower and Middle Paleolithic.


So, what does neanderthal mean, you ask?

Simply put, neanderthal is the name of an extinct species of human. When used as an adjective, neanderthal describes an intellectually backward, primitive, or ill-mannered person. 


  1. Neanderthal | Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
  2. NEANDERTHAL definition | Cambridge English Dictionary
  3. Interbreeding | The Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program
  4. The Neandertal type site revisited: Interdisciplinary investigations of skeletal remains from the Neander Valley, Germany | NCBI