noun, plural mis·sion·ar·ies. Also mis·sion·er.

a person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism or other activities, as educational or hospital work.
a person strongly in favor of a program, set of principles, etc., who attempts to persuade or convert others.
a person who is sent on a mission.


Origin of missionary

From the New Latin word missiōnārius, dating back to 1635–45. See mission, -ary
Related formsnon·mis·sion·ar·y, adjective, noun, plural non·mis·sion·ar·ies.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

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British Dictionary definitions for missionary


noun plural -aries

a member of a religious mission


of or relating to missionariesmissionary work
resulting from a desire to convert people to one's own beliefsmissionary zeal
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

Word Origin and History for missionary

1650s, from missionary (adj.). Missionary position attested by 1963, said to have been coined by Kinsey (1948), who identified its origin in work done by Polish anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski in Melanesia in the 1920s; allegedly from the term used by South Pacific peoples to describe what Christian missionaries promoted to replace their local variations. By late 1960s it became the general term for this type of sex, formerly also known as the English-American position.


"sent on a mission," 1640s, from Modern Latin missionarius "pertaining to a mission," from Latin missionem (see mission).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper