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[ster-il or, esp. British, -ahyl] /ˈstɛr ɪl or, esp. British, -aɪl/
free from living germs or microorganisms; aseptic:
sterile surgical instruments.
incapable of producing offspring; not producing offspring.
barren; not producing vegetation:
sterile soil.
  1. noting a plant in which reproductive structures fail to develop.
  2. bearing no stamens or pistils.
not productive of results, ideas, etc.; fruitless.
Origin of sterile
First recorded in 1545-55, sterile is from the Latin word sterilis unfruitful
Related forms
sterilely, adverb
[stuh-ril-i-tee] /stəˈrɪl ɪ ti/ (Show IPA),
sterileness, noun
antisterility, adjective
half-sterile, adjective
nonsterile, adjective
nonsterilely, adverb
nonsterility, noun
unsterile, adjective
Can be confused
impetus, impotence, sterility.
impotence, sterility, sterilized.
2. infecund, unfruitful.
2, 3. fertile. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for sterile
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It occasionally happens that the gills are sterile and remain white.

  • My hands were shaking as I took a sterile slide and pricked my finger.

    Competition James Causey
  • But a volcanic eruption is sterile, the ruin of the fertile ground.

    Under Western Eyes Joseph Conrad
  • His blood flows through him, a muddy stream of sterile water.

    Common Science Carleton W. Washburne
  • In a few cases a sterile variety is described as the male and a fertile as the female.

British Dictionary definitions for sterile


unable to produce offspring; infertile
free from living, esp pathogenic, microorganisms; aseptic
(of plants or their parts) not producing or bearing seeds, fruit, spores, stamens, or pistils
lacking inspiration or vitality; fruitless
(economics, US) (of gold) not being used to support credit creation or an increased money supply
Derived Forms
sterilely, adverb
sterility (stɛˈrɪlɪtɪ) noun
Word Origin
C16: from Latin sterilis
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for sterile

early 15c., "barren" (implied in sterility), from Middle French stérile "not producing fruit," from Latin sterilis "barren, unproductive," from PIE *ster- "sterile, barren" originally "stiff, rigid" (cf. Greek steresthai "be deprived of," steira "sterile," stereos "firm, solid, stiff, hard;" Sanskrit starih "a barren cow;" Old Church Slavonic sterica "a barren cow;" Gothic stairo "barren;" Old Norse stirtla "a barren cow"). See torpor. Originally in English with reference to soil; of females, from 1530s. The sense of "sterilized" is first recorded 1877.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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sterile in Medicine

sterile ster·ile (stěr'əl, -īl')

  1. Not producing or incapable of producing offspring.

  2. Free from all live bacteria or other microorganisms and their spores.

ster'ile·ness or ste·ril'i·ty (stə-rĭl'ĭ-tē) n.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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sterile in Science
  (stěr'əl, stěr'īl')   
  1. Not able to produce offspring, seeds, or fruit; unable to reproduce.

  2. Free from disease-causing microorganisms.

sterility noun (stə-rĭl'ĭ-tē)
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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