Definition of pretext in US English:



  • A reason given in justification of a course of action that is not the real reason.

    ‘the rebels had the perfect pretext for making their move’
    • ‘The usual pretexts for war were used, which resulted in profits for the privileged few.’
    • ‘We're the ones who unquestioningly march behind bullies into other countries on fictitious pretexts.’
    • ‘That time frame leaves an almost inexhaustible supply of pretexts to draw upon in the fight against the West.’
    • ‘States which are defenseless can be attacked at will, with the most flimsy pretexts and virtually no international support.’
    • ‘Moreover, where national enterprises are non-competitive, the imperial states invent pretexts to protect them from more efficient producers.’
    • ‘Various pretexts, excuses, and complications have been invoked over the years, but essentially this is a matter of politically motivated exclusion.’
    • ‘But it has become increasingly clear to them that the pretexts for the war were false.’
    • ‘Government officials have used concern for real estate value and tourism appeal as pretexts for such abuses.’
    • ‘They may cloak themselves in all manner of legalistic garb, prattling about human rights and producing other pretexts for trying to stop us because we're on the side of the angels.’
    • ‘For example, the Disability Discrimination Act applies to small business and service providers but apparently local authorities and their partners, on any number of pretexts, can fail to comply.’
    • ‘Any sign of opposition, real or imagined, was the pretext for a massive retaliation.’
    • ‘He has often sought to justify repression on the pretexts of threatened coups against his government.’
    • ‘The centerpiece of that strategy is the use of minor infractions as pretexts to lock up suspects on whom the government lacks sufficient evidence to accuse them of more serious crimes.’
    • ‘The buzz is that the political agenda of the Minister's visit was merely a pretext.’
    • ‘Defendants can usually win a continuance on the flimsiest of pretexts, and their strategy typically is to delay and delay until the woman gives up the prosecution.’
    • ‘If not, we are again using a pretext to cover intervention that is really motivated by another purpose altogether.’
    • ‘Of course, there are always good pretexts to postpone political reform.’
    • ‘I remember most of all the strange inactivity of the powerful - there were plenty of legal pretexts to arrest anyone who physically barred the tankers' way out, but nothing much seemed to happen.’
    • ‘The day before he carried out the bomb attack, he left the house under the pretext he was going to visit friends.’
    • ‘We find pretexts and excuses to nip through the main room to check on David, bringing him half an orange, a chunk of chocolate, so he knows we're still thinking of him.’
    excuse, false excuse, ostensible reason, alleged reason, plea, supposed grounds
    View synonyms


  • on (or under) the pretext

    • Giving the specified reason as one's justification.

      ‘the police raided Grand River on the pretext of looking for moonshiners’
      • ‘I could bow out of teaching for them on the pretext of needing to care for my friend without admitting the truth.’
      • ‘One taste and you'll be tempted to take an entire cake home on the pretext that it's your birthday.’
      • ‘I excused myself on the pretext of getting my card, which I said was in my bag in the bedroom (in truth it was in my pocket).’
      • ‘When I finished, a few people took the microphone on the pretext of asking a question.’
      • ‘Yet we are able to justify and rationalise our actions on the pretext that our sins are lesser as after all we are men and women who were ordained for each other.’


Early 16th century: from Latin praetextus ‘outward display’, from the verb praetexere ‘to disguise’, from prae ‘before’ + texere ‘weave’.