[ ster-il or, especially British, -ahyl ]
See synonyms for: sterilesterilenesssterility on

  1. free from living germs or microorganisms; aseptic: Successful operations rely on timely delivery of the sterile surgical instruments needed for each procedure.

  2. incapable of producing offspring; not producing offspring.

  1. barren; not producing vegetation: Attempts to cultivate the land have failed because of the sterile soil.

  2. Botany.

    • noting a plant in which reproductive structures fail to develop.

    • bearing no stamens or pistils.

  3. not productive of results, ideas, etc.; fruitless.

  4. lacking vitality, vibrancy, interest, etc.: Art can transform an otherwise sterile office into a happy, inspiring, and comforting space.

Origin of sterile

First recorded in 1545–55; from Latin sterilis “barren, unfruitful”

Other words for sterile

Opposites for sterile

Other words from sterile

  • ster·ile·ly, adverb
  • ste·ril·i·ty [stuh-ril-i-tee], /stəˈrɪl ɪ ti/, ster·ile·ness, noun
  • half-ster·ile, adjective
  • non·ster·ile, adjective
  • non·ster·ile·ly, adverb
  • un·ster·ile, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

British Dictionary definitions for sterile


/ (ˈstɛraɪl) /

  1. unable to produce offspring; infertile

  2. free from living, esp pathogenic, microorganisms; aseptic

  1. (of plants or their parts) not producing or bearing seeds, fruit, spores, stamens, or pistils

  2. lacking inspiration or vitality; fruitless

  3. economics, US (of gold) not being used to support credit creation or an increased money supply

Origin of sterile

C16: from Latin sterilis

Derived forms of sterile

  • sterilely, adverb
  • sterility (stɛˈrɪlɪtɪ), noun

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

Scientific definitions for sterile


[ stĕrəl, stĕrīl′ ]

  1. Not able to produce offspring, seeds, or fruit; unable to reproduce.

  2. Free from disease-causing microorganisms.

Other words from sterile

  • sterility noun (stə-rĭlĭ-tē)

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.