[ sol-uhm ]
/ ˈsɒl əm /


Origin of solemn

1275–1325; Middle English solem(p)ne (< Old French) < Late Latin sōlennis, sōlempnis, Latin sōlemnis, variant of sollemnis consecrated, holy, derivative of sollus whole
Related forms

Synonym study

1. See grave2.

Word story

The English solemn ultimately comes from the Latin adjective sollemnis “performed or celebrated according to correct religious forms.” Sollemnis has no secure etymology, but the Romans themselves thought that it came from the adjectives sollus “whole, complete” and a derivative adjective formed from the noun annus “year,” and therefore interpreted sollemnis as meaning “taking place every year, annual.”
In English, the extension of solemn from applying to rites, ceremonies, holy days, or oaths to nonreligious actions or feelings arose in the mid-15th century. One imagines early religious rites and ceremonies as being (like modern ones) serious and reverential affairs, and that the individuals performing or participating in them did so with a corresponding grave and serious demeanor. So it is not hard to see how the current sense of "grave, sober, or mirthless" developed: applying first to the people who participated in religious rites, and then losing the connection with the rites themselves. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for solemn

British Dictionary definitions for solemn


/ (ˈsɒləm) /


characterized or marked by seriousness or sinceritya solemn vow
characterized by pomp, ceremony, or formality
serious, glum, or pompous
inspiring awea solemn occasion
performed with religious ceremony
gloomy or sombresolemn colours
Derived Formssolemnly, adverbsolemnness or solemness, noun

Word Origin for solemn

C14: from Old French solempne, from Latin sōllemnis appointed, perhaps from sollus whole
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 solemn



mid-14c., "performed with due religious ceremony or reverence, sacred, devoted to religious observances," also, of a vow, etc., "made under religious sanction, binding," from Old French solempne (12c., Modern French solennel) and directly from Latin sollemnis "annual, established, religiously fixed, formal, ceremonial, traditional," perhaps related to sollus "whole" (see safe (adj.)).

"The explanation that Latin sollemnis was formed from sollus whole + annus year is not considered valid" [Barnhart], but some assimilation via folk-etymology is possible. In Middle English also "famous, important; imposing, grand," hence Chaucer's friar, a ful solempne man. Meaning "marked by seriousness or earnestness" is from late 14c.; sense of "fitted to inspire devout reflection" is from c.1400. Related: Solemnly.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper