Definition of tribe in English:

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Pronunciation: /trʌɪb/


1A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader: indigenous Indian tribes
More example sentences
  • The Apache tribes are federally recognized tribes.
  • And at one point, I was invited into the tribe's most traditional community for a wake.
  • He picks upon the year 2000 as the most successful since the revival of the ceremony as evidenced by the heavy presence of many Nkoya chiefs and traditional leaders of other tribes.
ethnic group, people, race, nation;
family, dynasty, house;
clan, sept
technical gens
archaic folk
1.1(In ancient Rome) each of several political divisions, originally three, later thirty, ultimately thirty-five.
Example sentences
  • Lucilius vilified reprobate consulars such as Lucius Opimius and Gaius Papirius Carbo, also undisciplined tribes and dishonest political lobbying.
  • The early people of Rome were from a tribe called Latins.
  • Then, if the assembly was composed of Tribes, the order of the vote had to be determined.
1.2often derogatory A distinctive or close-knit group: she made a stand against the social codes of her English middle-class tribe brands are adopted by a tribe of users an outburst against the whole tribe of theoreticians
More example sentences
  • I'm a non-denominational/multidenominational kind of person and try not to think about things that distinguish our various tribes.
  • Does this suggest that Watters' urban tribes are intensely political in ways he has not yet registered?
  • He never joined one of the Labour Party's political tribes, nor sought to start his own.
group, crowd, gang, company, body, band, host, bevy, party, pack, army, herd, flock, drove, horde, mob
informal bunch, crew, gaggle, posse, load
1.3 informal A large number of people: tribes of children playing under the watchful eyes of nurses
More example sentences
  • The Amazonian is back in another dress; either that or they have a whole tribe of them backstage.
  • Before you know it, I had a whole tribe of Somalis wanting to rent.
  • There are plenty of theories, such as group theory, that are not meant to be complete in that sense, because they describe a whole tribe of structures.
2 Biology A taxonomic category that ranks above genus and below family or subfamily, usually ending in -ini (in zoology) or -eae (in botany).
Example sentences
  • A broad investigation was initiated into the floral development of 30 taxa out of 15 tribes, focussing on the initiation of bracteoles and on the sequence of sepal initiation.
  • The family Blenniidae is the largest family in its suborder, consisting of six tribes with 53 genera and 345 species.
  • In all, 32 species from 10 genera of four tribes in subfamily Zingiberoideae, and five species from one genus of subfamily Costoideae were tested.


In historical contexts the word tribe is broadly accepted ( the area was inhabited by Slavic tribes), but in contemporary contexts it is problematic when used to refer to a community living within a traditional society. It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists towards so-called primitive or uncivilized peoples living in remote undeveloped places. For this reason it is generally preferable to use alternative terms such as community or people.


Middle English: from Old French tribu or Latin tribus (singular and plural); perhaps related to tri- 'three' and referring to the three divisions of the early people of Rome.

  • In the early days of ancient Rome the people fell into three political divisions. This division into ‘three’ (tri- in Latin) may be the origin of tribus, from which tribe descended, along with tribunal (Late Middle English), tribune (Late Middle English), tribute (Middle English), and retribution (Late Middle English) ‘paying back’. The first uses of tribe in English referred to the twelve ancient tribes of Israel claiming descent from the twelve sons of Jacob. From tribute comes tributary, found from the 15th century for someone paying tribute. The sense of a smaller river adding its contribution to the big one developed from this in the early 19th century.

Words that rhyme with tribe

ascribe, bribe, gybe, imbibe, jibe, proscribe, scribe, subscribe, transcribe, vibe

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: tribe

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