[ klahy-maks ]
/ ˈklaɪ mæks /
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the highest or most intense point in the development or resolution of something; culmination: His career reached its climax when he was elected president.
(in a dramatic or literary work) a decisive moment that is of maximum intensity or is a major turning point in a plot.
  1. a figure consisting of a series of related ideas so arranged that each surpasses the preceding in force or intensity.
  2. the last term or member of this figure.
an orgasm.
Ecology. the stable and self-perpetuating end stage in the ecological succession or evolution of a plant and animal community.
verb (used with or without object)
to bring to or reach a climax.
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Origin of climax

1580–90; <Late Latin <Greek klîmax ladder, akin to klī́nein to lean


hy·per·cli·max, nounun·cli·maxed, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does climax mean?

A climax is the most intense, decisive point of something, especially in a story or film.

Where does climax come from?

Content warning: this article contains language about sex.

We can ultimately thank Greek for the word climax, which literally means “ladder.”

The word is recorded in English as early as the 1530s and originally referred to a rhetorical device where ideas are arranged in a way that increase in intensity or importance.

By the 1640s, climax was referring to the culmination of something, such as a competition or story. Many literature students will know climax as the peak or pivotal moment in plays, as modeled by 19th-century German dramatist Gustav Freytag in his namesake, Freytag’s pyramid.

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Climax lent itself to sex by the 1870s, used in scientific literature for the orgasm of a person.

The opposite of a climax is an anticlimax, when something is far less important, powerful, or striking than expected—a letdown.

How is climax used in real life?

When something is considered a climax, it can be described as climactic. Same goes for anticlimax (i.e., anticlimactic).

Literature teachers and students will discuss climaxes when analyzing the plot or structure of a story. Climax also sees frequent use in discussion of films, especially their most exciting or significant parts.

More generally, a climax can refer to the “high point” something has built up to (e.g., The climax of my week was the surprise office party on Friday).

Plenty of erotic novels or pornography titles may feature the word climax, though climax is generally considered inoffensive. In sexual contexts, climax is often used as a verb for “having an orgasm.”

More examples of climax:

“The only drawbacks of the film are its noticeable tendency to abruptly change from scene to scene for most of its run time, although it becomes slightly better toward the end, and a somewhat underwhelming climax — a chase between a fearful group of humans following the discovery of yeti existence.

Overall, the action scenes in “Smallfoot” are successful, but the climax falls short.”
—Alex Novak, Kent Wired, September 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use climax in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for climax

/ (ˈklaɪmæks) /

the most intense or highest point of an experience or of a series of eventsthe party was the climax of the week
a decisive moment in a dramatic or other work
a rhetorical device by which a series of sentences, clauses, or phrases are arranged in order of increasing intensity
ecology the stage in the development of a community during which it remains stable under the prevailing environmental conditions
Also called: sexual climax (esp in referring to women) another word for orgasm
to reach or bring to a climax

Word Origin for climax

C16: from Late Latin, from Greek klimax ladder
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