[ ster-il or, esp. British, -ahyl ]
/ ˈstɛr ɪl or, esp. British, -aɪl /


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.

Origin of sterile

First recorded in 1545–55, sterile is from the Latin word sterilis unfruitful

Related forms

Can be confused

impetus impotence sterilityimpotence sterility sterilized Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples 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

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

Medicine definitions for sterile


[ stĕrəl, -īl′ ]


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

Related forms

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

Science definitions for sterile


[ stĕrəl, stĕrīl′ ]

Not able to produce offspring, seeds, or fruit; unable to reproduce.
Free from disease-causing microorganisms.

Related forms

sterility noun (stə-rĭlĭ-tē)
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.