Definition of germ in English:

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Pronunciation: /dʒəːm/


1A microorganism, especially one which causes disease.
Example sentences
  • But since pasteurisation kills not only germs but also useful bacteria, a culture is added to the milk in order to reintroduce all essential bacteria.
  • Like many germs, the bacteria that cause botulism in infants are everywhere in the environment.
  • The hands that treat patients and the instruments used to save lives could be spreading deadly germs.
microbe, microorganism, bacillus, bacterium, virus
informal bug
2A portion of an organism capable of developing into a new one or part of one.
Example sentences
  • Many multicellular organisms have a germ that is segregated early in the development.
  • These bodies are obviously organized, resembling in all points the germs of the lowest organisms, and diverse in size and structure.
  • A mesenchymal signal triggers an ectodermal cell to proliferate and the cells grow downward to form a hair germ.
2.1The embryo in a cereal grain or other plant seed.
Example sentences
  • Parching destroys the germ so the seed will not sprout, hardens the kernel, and loosens the tight hull so it can be removed.
  • After the husk is removed, the rice is milled to remove the bran and the germ or embryo.
  • Damage occurs when beetles feed on the seed and destroy the germ, resulting in an uneven stand.
embryo, bud, nucleus, seed, spore, egg, ovum
technical ovule
2.2An initial stage from which something may develop: the germ of a brilliant idea
More example sentences
  • With the germ of an idea in mind, he boarded a plane to China in search of the products.
  • Here we see the germ of a practice which later on developed into the European feudal system.
  • Children in such families are quick to be inoculated with the germ of duplicity.
start, beginning(s), commencement, starting point, genesis, inception, seed, embryo, bud, root, rudiment, origin, source, fountain, potential (for);
core, nucleus, heart, kernel, nub, essence;
Latin fons et origo
literary fountainhead, wellspring, fount



adjective (germier, germiest)
informal,sense 1).
Example sentences
  • I could take along knitting, but hospitals are probably dirty, germy places.
  • Door handles and opening panels on doors are, in fact, more germy than floors, walls, and most other surfaces.
  • With her assistant's help, Sadlier started to clean everything germy in the office, from doorknobs to light switches.


Late Middle English (in sense 2): via Old French from Latin germen 'seed, sprout'. sense 1 dates from the late 19th century.

  • This came via Old French from Latin germen ‘seed, sprout’. At first it meant a portion of an organism capable of developing into a new one or part of one. The sense ‘micro-organism’ dates from the late 19th century when it was first used vaguely to mean the ‘seed’ of a disease. Germinate (late 16th century) is from the same root.

Words that rhyme with germ

affirm, berm, confirm, firm, herm, midterm, perm, sperm, squirm, term, therm, worm

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: germ

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