[ eg-zi-sten-shuhl, ek-si- ]
/ ˌɛg zɪˈstɛn ʃəl, ˌɛk sɪ- /


of or relating to existence: Does climate change pose an existential threat to humanity?
of, relating to, or characteristic of philosophical existentialism; concerned with the nature of human existence as determined by the individual's freely made choices.


WATCH NOW: What Does "Existential" Mean To You In 2019?

We asked these people what they thought the word "existential" means and why it's relevant in 2019. Does it have the same meaning for you?




Do you remember all the words from last week, September 21–27, 2020? Then this quiz should be butyraceous.
Question 1 of 7
What does “yare” mean?

Origin of existential

First recorded in 1685–95, existential is from the Late Latin word existentiālis “relating to existing”; see existence, -al1

OTHER WORDS FROM existential

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020


What does existential mean?

Existential is an adjective meaning “relating to existence,” but what does that even mean? What does anything mean? What is our purpose in the universe? These are existential questions.

Existential is often used in relation to existentialism, a philosophical movement that suggests that existence (life, the universe, and everything) has no meaning except for the meaning that individuals create for themselves. Existential is also often used to describe a scenario in which someone or something’s very existence or being is threatened or in question, especially in phrases like existential threat. 

Example: Though unlikely, an asteroid strike would be an existential threat to the planet.

Where does existential come from?

Existential is the adjective form of existence. Existential, existence, and exist all ultimately derive from the Latin verb ex(s)istere, meaning “to exist, appear, emerge.” The first records of existential in English come from the 1600s.

By the 1800s and 1900s, the use of existential had gained importance in philosophy of existentialism. Philosophers and writers like Sören Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, and Albert Camus tangled with questions of existence. People who subscribe to this philosophy are called existentialists. They often come to the conclusion that life has no meaning by itself, and that since humans have the freedom to make their own choices, they have the responsibility to do so and to give meaning to life. Of course, that’s a big responsibility, and existentialism often deals with the existential anxiety and fear that come with it, especially in the face of mortality—that fact that one day our existence will end.

Relatedly, but less philosophically and more practically, existential is applied to situations that threaten to wipe something out, such as a species, as in Poaching poses an existential threat to elephants. It is also used in cases where someone has big questions about who they are, as in After getting fired from my dream job, I’m having an existential crisis.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to existential?

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


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

How is existential used in real life?

Existential is frequently used in the context of the philosophy of existentialism. In everyday speech, it’s generally applied to situations in which something’s existence is at stake or when reflecting on deep human problems. It is often used to modify words like angst, threat, crisis, and question.



Try using existential!

Is existential used correctly in the following sentence?

This philosophy course is intended to tackle a lot of existential questions, like what it means to be human.

Example sentences from the Web for existential

British Dictionary definitions for existential

/ (ˌɛɡzɪˈstɛnʃəl) /


of or relating to existence, esp human existence
philosophy pertaining to what exists, and is thus known by experience rather than reason; empirical as opposed to theoretical
logic denoting or relating to a formula or proposition asserting the existence of at least one object fulfilling a given condition; containing an existential quantifier
of or relating to existentialism

noun logic

  1. an existential statement or formula
  2. short for existential quantifier

Derived forms of existential

existentially, adverb
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