the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor.
deficiency of necessary or desirable ingredients, qualities, etc.: poverty of the soil.
scantiness; insufficiency: Their efforts to stamp out disease were hampered by a poverty of medical supplies.

Origin of poverty

1125–75; Middle English poverte < Old French < Latin paupertāt- (stem of paupertās) small means, moderate circumstances. See pauper, -ty2

Synonym study

1. Poverty, destitution, need, want imply a state of privation and lack of necessities. Poverty denotes serious lack of the means for proper existence: living in a state of extreme poverty. Destitution, a somewhat more literary word, implies a state of having absolutely none of the necessities of life: widespread destitution in countries at war. Need emphasizes the fact that help or relief is necessary: Most of the people were in great need. Want emphasizes privations, especially lack of food and clothing: Families were suffering from want.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for poverty

Contemporary Examples of poverty

Historical Examples of poverty

  • She cared little for poverty or riches, as long as she had regained her chief treasures.

    Brave and Bold

    Horatio Alger

  • Many in our country do not know the pain of poverty, but we can listen to those who do.

  • They rend the heart with pity all the more for the reason that there is no sense in their poverty.

  • Its most significant details were of a sordid kind, familiar to poverty.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

  • In the one case, as she knew it, a girl under the urge of poverty had stolen.

    Within the Law

    Marvin Dana

British Dictionary definitions for poverty



the condition of being without adequate food, money, etc
scarcity or deartha poverty of wit
a lack of elements conducive to fertility in land or soil

Word Origin for poverty

C12: from Old French poverté, from Latin paupertās restricted means, from pauper poor
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 poverty

late 12c., from Old French poverte "poverty, misery, wretched condition" (Modern French pauvreté), from Latin paupertatem (nominative paupertas) "poverty," from pauper "poor" (see poor (adj.)).

Seeing so much poverty everywhere makes me think that God is not rich. He gives the appearance of it, but I suspect some financial difficulties. [Victor Hugo, "Les Misérables," 1862]

Poverty line attested from 1901; poverty trap from 1966; poverty-stricken from 1803.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper