[ uh-duhl-ter-is, -tris ]
/ əˈdʌl tər ɪs, -trɪs /
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a woman who commits adultery.
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Origin of adulteress

First recorded in 1350–1400; adulter(er) + -ess; replacing Middle English avoutresse

usage note for adulteress

What's the difference between adulteress and adulterer? See -ess.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does adulteress mean?

An adulteress is a woman who engages in adultery—a consensual sexual relationship or encounter between someone who’s married and a person they’re not married to (who may or may not be married to someone else).

Adulteress is a form of the word adulterer, which refers to a person who engages in adultery but does not specify their gender. There is no exclusively male equivalent of adulteress. This reflects the fact that it has been more common throughout history for women to be blamed—and punished—for adulterous relationships than men.

Typically, for something to be considered adultery, at least one of the partners must be married. In other words, the adulterers can be two people who are both married to other people, or a married person and a nonmarried person. In any case, the word adulterer can be applied to both people in the adulterous relationship (not just the one who’s married). Adulteress, however, is most often used to refer to a woman who has cheated on her husband.

When it happens with someone other than one’s spouse, a long-term relationship (often called an affair), a single sexual encounter, or anything in between can be considered to constitute adultery. In some cases, a relationship may even be considered adultery when it’s nonsexual but intimate (this is sometimes called an emotional affair).

The word adultery is especially used in a religious context, in which it’s often considered a sin. It’s also sometimes used in a legal context, such as during divorce proceedings. Adultery is a crime in some places (including in some U.S. states, though people aren’t often charged for it).

Adultery is associated with a considerable amount of stigma. The word adulteress is always used negatively and implies a critical judgment of such actions.

Example: She’s a serial adulteress who doesn’t even attempt to hide her affairs.

Where does adulteress come from?

The first records of the word adulteress come from the 1300s. It ultimately derives from the Latin verb adulterāre, meaning “to defile.” The same word is the basis of the English verb adulterate, meaning “to debase” or “to make impure.” Adulterers are usually adults, but the word adult is based on a different root. The suffix -ess is used in the feminine form of nouns, as in goddess and mistress.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery” is one of the Ten Commandments, and adultery is specifically prohibited by multiple religions and even some laws. It’s in this context that you’re most likely to hear the word adulteress. In the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the main character, Hester Prynne, is branded as an adulteress and forced to wear a red letter A, indicating that she has been found guilty of adultery. In real life, the word adulteress is often just as stigmatizing, and is especially used to place the blame on the woman in an adulterous relationship.

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What are some other forms related to adulteress?

What are some synonyms for adulteress?

What are some words that share a root or word element with adulteress


What are some words that often get used in discussing adulteress?


How is adulteress used in real life?

Adulteress is typically used in a judgmental way.



How to use adulteress in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for adulteress

/ (əˈdʌltərəs) /

a woman who has committed adultery
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