Definition of pontiff in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈpɒntɪf/
(also sovereign or supreme pontiff)


The Pope: the Pope’s first visit to Poland as pontiff
More example sentences
  • The Vatican said the pontiff has been cured of the flu-related breathing problems that landed him there.
  • The Pope made history yesterday by becoming the first pontiff to cross the Tiber to address the Italian parliament.
  • The last pope to hold the name of Benedict was an Italian whose reign from 1914 to 1922 encompassed World War I.


Late 17th century (denoting an early Christian bishop): from French pontife, from Latin pontifex (see pontifex).

  • Referring to the pope, this word is from French pontife, from Latin pontifex meaning literally ‘bridge-maker’ but used in ancient Rome as a term for a member of the principal college of priests. This also gives us pontificate (Late Middle English). The use ‘express opinions in a pompous way’ dates from the early 19th century. The same pont- ‘bridge’ element is found in pontoon (late 16th century). See also at punt

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: pon|tiff

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.