[ trahyb ]
See synonyms for: tribetribes on

  1. any group of people, typically a subdivision of a nation or an ethnic group, that is united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, shared customs and traditions, recognition of the same leader or leaders, etc.; a group of related clans: The twelve tribes of Israel were descended from the twelve sons of Jacob.

  2. Sometimes Offensive. a group of Indigenous people sharing the same ethnicity, language, territory, customs, history, etc.: now often referred to as a nation. : See Usage note at the current entry.

  1. a division of any of the premodern peoples of Europe or Asia: After the Romans left the Low Countries in the 5th century, Frankish tribes dominated.In 1206 Genghis Khan united all the Mongol tribes to form the great Mongol nation.

  2. a company, group, or number of people: Every afternoon a noisy tribe of children—friends of my brother and me—would gather in our yard.

  3. a group or class of people with strong common traits, values, or interests: We in the tribe of journalists tend to be cynical about such conferences—they’re mainly about platitudes and photo ops.

  4. a large family: Don't invite your brother and his tribe to sleep over—I don't know where we'd put all those kids!

  5. a category or type of living things or inanimate objects: Next to the robin, the sparrow is the boldest of our feathered tribe.Over there is a tribe of mismatched stuffed chairs.

  6. Biology.

    • a category in the classification of organisms usually between a subfamily and a genus or sometimes between a suborder and a family.

    • any group of closely related plants or animals.

  7. Animal Husbandry. a group of animals, especially cattle, descended through the female line from a common female ancestor.

  8. Roman History.

    • any one of three divisions of the people representing the Latin, Sabine, and Etruscan settlements.

    • any of the later political divisions of the people.

  9. Greek History. a phyle.

Origin of tribe

First recorded in 1200–50; Middle English, from Old French tribu, from Latin tribus “tribe,” originally referring to any of the three divisions of the Roman people; perhaps from Etruscan; perhaps a derivative of trēs (masculine and feminine), tria (neuter) “three” (combining form tri-) + -bus, a suffix of unclear formation; see also three

usage note For tribe

It was formerly common to refer to the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, and elsewhere as tribes: the Yoruba tribe, the Mohawk tribe, tribes of the Amazon jungle. This often reflected an ethnocentric perception among colonizing European nations that such peoples were mere kin groups too small in number, and too backward or primitive in terms of social and political organization and other cultural development, to be “nations.” The word tribe is also used to refer historically to the premodern Indigenous peoples of Eurasia, regarded as uncivilized barbarians by the Romans. Because of these unwanted connotations and associations, many Indigenous peoples of today reject the term tribe and prefer to be known as nations, reflecting the same social and political status, cultural complexity and sophistication, etc., as any other nation. Since nationhood typically connotes connection with a territory, the word nation also serves as a reminder that Indigenous peoples have largely been dispossessed of theirs.
In some cases, however, the word tribe is still appropriate. For example, where a large Indigenous nation is spread over a wide area, different linguistic or cultural divisions or different geographic communities within that nation might refer to themselves as tribes: Louis Bull Tribe is part of the Cree nation, the largest First Nations group in Canada. This is especially true if the subgroup has its own political leadership and a legal relationship with the government, although in Canada such a local community is more often called a band. In the United States, an Indigenous group that has such a relationship with the federal or state government may be called a tribe regardless of whether it corresponds to a single ethnic group or a division of one, and band can refer to any of various kinds of subgroups. It is best to find out what term is used by the particular group to refer to itself. When speaking more generally of Indigenous groups, the word people ( peoples for multiple groups) is appropriate: the Indigenous peoples of the plains.

Other words from tribe

  • sub·tribe, noun
  • un·der·tribe, noun

Words Nearby tribe Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2024

How to use tribe in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for tribe


/ (traɪb) /

  1. a social division of a people, esp of a preliterate people, defined in terms of common descent, territory, culture, etc

  2. (an ethnic or ancestral division of ancient cultures, esp of one of the following)

    • any of the three divisions of the ancient Romans, the Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans

    • one of the later political divisions of the Roman people

    • any of the 12 divisions of ancient Israel, each of which was named after and believed to be descended from one of the 12 patriarchs

    • a phyle of ancient Greece

  1. informal, often jocular

    • a large number of persons, animals, etc

    • a specific class or group of persons

    • a family, esp a large one

  2. biology a taxonomic group that is a subdivision of a subfamily

  3. stockbreeding a strain of animals descended from a common female ancestor through the female line

Origin of tribe

C13: from Latin tribus; probably related to Latin trēs three

Derived forms of tribe

  • tribeless, adjective

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