[ ster-il or, especially British, -ahyl ]
/ ˈstɛr ɪl or, especially British, -aɪl /
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See synonyms for: sterile / sterileness / sterility on Thesaurus.com


free from living germs or microorganisms; aseptic: sterile surgical instruments.
incapable of producing offspring; not producing offspring.
barren; not producing vegetation: sterile soil.
  1. noting a plant in which reproductive structures fail to develop.
  2. bearing no stamens or pistils.
not productive of results, ideas, etc.; fruitless.



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“Was” is used for the indicative past tense of “to be,” and “were” is only used for the subjunctive past tense.

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Origin of sterile

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


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

Example sentences from the Web for sterile

British Dictionary definitions for sterile

/ (ˈstɛraɪl) /


unable to produce offspring; infertile
free from living, esp pathogenic, microorganisms; aseptic
(of plants or their parts) not producing or bearing seeds, fruit, spores, stamens, or pistils
lacking inspiration or vitality; fruitless
economics, US (of gold) not being used to support credit creation or an increased money supply

Derived forms of sterile

sterilely, adverbsterility (stɛˈrɪlɪtɪ), noun

Word Origin for sterile

C16: from Latin sterilis
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

Medical definitions for sterile

[ stĕrəl, -īl′ ]


Not producing or incapable of producing offspring.
Free from all live bacteria or other microorganisms and their spores.

Other words from sterile

sterile•ness null n.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Scientific definitions for sterile

[ stĕrəl, stĕrīl′ ]

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