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  1. devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
  2. characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself: selfish motives.

Origin of selfish

First recorded in 1630–40; self + -ish1
Related formsself·ish·ly, adverbself·ish·ness, noun

Synonyms for selfish

See more synonyms for on Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for selfishness

self-indulgence, greed, self-worship, stinginess

Examples from the Web for selfishness

Contemporary Examples of selfishness

Historical Examples of selfishness

  • But do try to believe, at the same time, that my own selfishness has been a kindness to you.

    The Spenders

    Harry Leon Wilson

  • "He is cruel, and the very incarnation of selfishness," he said.

    Weighed and Wanting

    George MacDonald

  • In the selfishness of his misery he looked upon this as lack of sympathy with himself.

    Weighed and Wanting

    George MacDonald

  • God had made Amy so that she had less trouble from selfishness than all but a few people.

    Weighed and Wanting

    George MacDonald

  • Ambition, selfishness, and the love of success, were alike his inspiration and his ruin.

British Dictionary definitions for selfishness


  1. chiefly concerned with one's own interest, advantage, etc, esp to the total exclusion of the interests of others
  2. relating to or characterized by self-interest
Derived Formsselfishly, adverbselfishness, 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

Word Origin and History for selfishness



1630s, from self- + -ish. Said in Hacket's life of Archbishop Williams (1693) to have been coined by Presbyterians. In the 17c., synonyms included self-seeking (1620s), self-ended and self-ful.

Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs. [Richard Dawkins, "The Selfish Gene," 1976]

Related: Selfishly; selfishness. Cf. similar formations in German selbstisch, Swedish sjelfvisk, Danish selvisk.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper