prima donna

[ pree-muh-don-uh, prim-uh; Italian pree-mah dawn-nah ]
/ ˌpri mə ˈdɒn ə, ˌprɪm ə; Italian ˈpri mɑ ˈdɔn nɑ /
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noun, plural pri·ma don·nas, Italian pri·me don·ne [pree-me dawn-ne]. /ˈpri mɛ ˈdɔn nɛ/.
a first or principal female singer of an opera company.
a temperamental person; a person who takes adulation and privileged treatment as a right and reacts with petulance to criticism or inconvenience.
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Origin of prima donna

1760–70; <Italian: literally, first lady; see prime, duenna
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does prima donna mean?

The literal meaning of prima donna is the lead or main female singer in an opera company. Prima donna is commonly used as a negative term for a person who’s extremely self-centered and temperamental.

In this sense, a prima donna expects and demands constant praise and special treatment and is easily irritated when they don’t get it. Though the literal sense of prima donna refers only to women, its figurative sense can be applied to anyone. The plural of prima donna is prima donnas (though the plural of the Italian phrase is prime donne).

Example: After the director had a fight with his lead actor, he accused him of being a selfish prima donna who was impossible to work with.

Where does prima donna come from?

Prima donna is taken directly from Italian, in which it literally means “first lady.” The first records of the term in English come from the 1700s. In the context of opera, the equivalent term for the leading male singer is primo uomo. 

When opera was at the height of its popularity, the prima donna of an opera company was often an influential woman who commanded respect. However, some of these singers were infamously demanding, and the position became associated with a certain stereotype. Today, when we call someone a prima donna, it usually has nothing to do with opera and simply refers to a spoiled, entitled person who expects preferential treatment and throws a tantrum when they don’t get it. Though the term is still perhaps most often associated with performers or entertainers, it can be applied to any person who acts in such a way.

The word diva is a synonym for the literal sense of prima donna, and it can also be used in a similar figurative way as well, but it may not always carry the same negative sense that prima donna always does.

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What are some other forms related to prima donna?

  • prima donnas (plural)
  • prime donne (Italian plural)

What are some synonyms for prima donna?

What are some words that share a root or word element with prima donna?

What are some words that often get used in discussing prima donna?

How is prima donna used in real life?

Some people may apply the term to themselves to imply something about their talent or the type of treatment they expect, but calling someone a prima donna is never a compliment.



Try using prima donna!

Which of the following words accurately describes a prima donna?

A. humble
B. cooperative
C. easygoing
D. none of the above

How to use prima donna in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for prima donna

prima donna
/ (ˈpriːmə ˈdɒnə) /

noun plural prima donnas
a female operatic star; diva
informal a temperamental person

Word Origin for prima donna

C19: from Italian: first lady
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

Cultural definitions for prima donna

prima donna
[ (pree-muh, prim-uh don-uh) ]

A vain and overly sensitive person who is temperamental and difficult to work with: “That Jenkins girl is a good gymnast, but she certainly is a prima donna.” In opera, the prima donna is the principal female soloist. From Italian, meaning “first lady.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.