[ es ]

  1. the letter S, s.

  2. something shaped like an S: The road wound among the mountains in great esses.

Origin of ess

First recorded in 1530–40

Words Nearby ess

Other definitions for -ess (2 of 2)


  1. a suffix forming nouns that are applied to only women or girls: countess; goddess; lioness.

Origin of -ess

From Middle English -esse, from Old French, from Late Latin -issa, from Greek

usage note For -ess

Since at least the 14th century, English has both borrowed feminine nouns ending in -ess from French and applied the French ending to English words, most frequently agent nouns in -er or -or. Some of the earliest borrowings—titles for the nobility and church dignitaries—are still in use, among them countess, princess, duchess, empress, abbess, and prioress. Of the scores of new nouns that were created from the 14th century on, many have long ago disappeared entirely from use, as with devouress and dwelleress. But some have survived, although in most cases their use has declined sharply.
Nouns in -ess denoting occupation or profession are rapidly disappearing from American English. Airlines now refer to cabin personnel as flight attendants, not stewards and stewardesses. The gender-neutral term server and the masculine waiter are now widely used for women in the food service industry, rather than waitress. In the arts, authoress, editress, poetess, sculptress, and similar terms are either rejected or discouraged and almost always replaced by author, editor, poet, sculptor. Nouns in -ess designating the holder of public office are hardly ever encountered in modern American usage. Women holding the office of ambassador, mayor, or governor are referred to by those titles rather than by the older, gender-marked ambassadress, mayoress, or governess. ( Governess has developed a special sense in relation to childcare, but this use is less common in the United States than in Britain.) Among other terms almost never used in modern American English are ancestress, directress, instructress, manageress, oratress, postmistress, and proprietress. If the gender of the performer is not relevant to performance of the task or function, the label in -er or -or is now widely used as a gender-neutral term.
Some nouns in -ess are still used with little or no objection, including: actress (though many women in the acting profession prefer to be called actors ), enchantress, heiress (largely in journalistic writing), hostess (but women who conduct radio and television programs are referred to as hosts ), seamstress, seductress, sorceress, and temptress. Among older -ess terms that are now considered not only dated but offensive are Jewess and Negress.
Owing to its multiple meanings and varying usages throughout history, the word mistress is particularly complex. In the sense of one who has acquired skill or expertise in something, mistress has given way entirely to the masculine or gender-neutral master : She is a master at interpreting financial reports. Some of its other meanings have simply fallen out of common use, such as the mistress (“female head”) of a household, the mistress (“female controller”) of a family fortune, or the mistress (“female owner”) of a horse. In the historical context of chattel slavery, the “female owner” sense is retained for a slaveholder’s wife, daughter, or female heir. In modern American English, the primary meaning of mistress, still in common use, is “a woman who, most often secretly, has an ongoing sexual relationship with, and sometimes is financially supported by, someone who is openly married to, engaged to, or living with another person.” See also -enne, -ette, -trix. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use ess in a sentence

  • "'Tis very lonesome for 'ee in the heth tonight, mis'ess," said Christian, coming from the seclusion he had hitherto maintained.

    Return of the Native | Thomas Hardy
  • If they smash the tables of the law, it is in kid-gloves, and with a delicious odor of ess bouquet about them.

    That Boy Of Norcott's | Charles James Lever

British Dictionary definitions for -ess


suffix forming nouns
  1. indicating a female: waitress; lioness

Origin of -ess

via Old French from Late Latin -issa, from Greek

usage For -ess

The suffix -ess in such words as poetess, authoress is now almost invariably regarded as disparaging or extremely old-fashioned; a gender-neutral term poet, author is preferred

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