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Origin of merit

First recorded in 1175–1225; Middle English, from Latin meritum “act worthy of praise (or blame),” noun use of neuter of meritus, past participle of merēre “to earn”

synonym study for merit

1. See desert3.

historical usage of merit

The noun merit first appears in English in the very early 13th century, and the verb much later, toward the end of the 15th century. The noun comes from Anglo-French and Old French merit(e) “reward, moral worth” and Latin meritum “what one deserves, due reward, justification,” a noun use of meritum, the past participle of the verb merēre (also merērī ) “to earn, receive as a reward.” The verb merit comes from Middle French mériter “to reward, deserve” and Latin meritāre “to bring in money (regularly), draw pay as a soldier, serve in the army.”
The earliest English sense of the noun is religious and theological, “the quality of (a person or action) being entitled to a reward from God,” which will be familiar to anyone who attended parochial school. The legal term merits, i.e., “the intrinsic rights or wrongs of a case or matter, without consideration of procedural details, personal feelings, etc.,” dates from the end of the 15th century. The British Order of Merit, an award given to civilians and members of the armed forces, first appears in English in 1799, and is modeled on the Pour le Mérite established by King Frederick II (“Frederick the Great”) of Prussia in 1740.


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use merit in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for merit

/ (ˈmɛrɪt) /

worth or superior quality; excellencework of great merit
(often plural) a deserving or commendable quality or actjudge him on his merits
Christianity spiritual credit granted or received for good works
the fact or state of deserving; desert
an obsolete word for reward
verb -its, -iting or -ited
(tr) to be worthy of; deservehe merits promotion
See also merits

Derived forms of merit

merited, adjectivemeritless, adjective

Word Origin for merit

C13: via Old French from Latin meritum reward, desert, from merēre to deserve
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

Other Idioms and Phrases with merit


see on its merits.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.