Definition of tribe in US English:



  • 1A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.

    ‘indigenous Indian tribes’
    ‘the Celtic tribes of Europe’
    • ‘The Apache tribes are federally recognized tribes.’
    • ‘The people of the hill tribes continue the traditional beliefs and practices of their ancestors.’
    • ‘A vibrant economy would help sustain the tribe's social and cultural aspirations, he said.’
    • ‘Part of its brief is to investigate the authenticity of kingdoms, kings, tribes and other traditional leaders.’
    • ‘Favoritism for those from the same tribe or region is common.’
    • ‘And at one point, I was invited into the tribe's most traditional community for a wake.’
    • ‘When our traditional leaders embrace each other then it promotes unity among tribes and communities.’
    • ‘Native groups began to form federally recognized tribes and gain access to grants and federal services.’
    • ‘He picks upon the year 2000 as the most successful since the revival of the ceremony as evidenced by the heavy presence of many Nkoya chiefs and traditional leaders of other tribes.’
    • ‘But some leaders within my tribe reject this tradition.’
    • ‘This is a very important part of tribal culture and preserves a tribe's identity and beliefs.’
    • ‘It gradually became the common name of many tribes.’
    • ‘The area now called England was occupied by many European cultures and tribes.’
    • ‘This is a fair conclusion stemming from the way the two tribes ' annual cultural traditional ceremonies have gone on in this district this time around.’
    • ‘Women were involved in decision-making in various ways in families, communities, and tribes.’
    • ‘These hill tribes have faced economic difficulties related to their lack of land rights.’
    • ‘Military heroes and the leaders of vanquished tribes often had this status conferred upon them by the ruling Inca.’
    • ‘In fact, Rountree's role in securing state recognition for nonreservation tribes was primarily applied toward the Powhatan groups.’
    • ‘The committee oversees the tribe's economic development, including the use of natural resources and the investment of tribal income.’
    • ‘For almost three years, I was a cultural leader within my tribe.’
    ethnic group, people, race, nation
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    1. 1.1 (in ancient Rome) each of several political divisions, originally three, later thirty, ultimately thirty-five.
      • ‘Lucilius vilified reprobate consulars such as Lucius Opimius and Gaius Papirius Carbo, also undisciplined tribes and dishonest political lobbying.’
      • ‘The early people of Rome were from a tribe called Latins.’
      • ‘Then, if the assembly was composed of Tribes, the order of the vote had to be determined.’
      • ‘A bare majority of the assembled tribes — eighteen out of thirty-five — was deemed sufficient to express the will of the whole Roman people.’
    2. 1.2derogatory A distinctive or close-knit group.
      ‘she made a stand against the social codes of her English middle-class tribe’
      ‘an outburst against the whole tribe of theoreticians’
      ‘the entire tribe is coming for Thanksgiving’
      • ‘I'm a non-denominational/multidenominational kind of person and try not to think about things that distinguish our various tribes.’
      • ‘He never joined one of the Labour Party's political tribes, nor sought to start his own.’
      • ‘Does this suggest that Watters' urban tribes are intensely political in ways he has not yet registered?’
      • ‘But it's awfully depressing to see how quickly we can indulge the urge to trim the Faith to suit our political tribe.’
      • ‘Getting Congress' warring tribes to back this agenda may be easy by comparison.’
      • ‘While Chris may have the heart of a chief, he is still a novice in the tribe's political conversations.’
      group, crowd, gang, company, body, band, host, bevy, party, pack, army, herd, flock, drove, horde, mob
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    3. 1.3informal A large number of people or animals.
      ‘tribes of children playing under the watchful eyes of nurses’
      • ‘The Amazonian is back in another dress; either that or they have a whole tribe of them backstage.’
      • ‘And pretty soon that second guy is whispering to a third guy, and before long a whole burly tribe of traders gather around Ty and they're going bananas!’
      • ‘Before you know it, I had a whole tribe of Somalis wanting to rent.’
      • ‘There are plenty of theories, such as group theory, that are not meant to be complete in that sense, because they describe a whole tribe of structures.’
  • 2Biology
    A taxonomic category that ranks above genus and below family or subfamily, usually ending in -ini (in zoology) or -eae (in botany).

    • ‘In all, 32 species from 10 genera of four tribes in subfamily Zingiberoideae, and five species from one genus of subfamily Costoideae were tested.’
    • ‘A broad investigation was initiated into the floral development of 30 taxa out of 15 tribes, focussing on the initiation of bracteoles and on the sequence of sepal initiation.’
    • ‘If ornaments appeared in subfamilies or tribes that were phylogenetically separated, these were counted as evolutionarily independent events.’
    • ‘The family Blenniidae is the largest family in its suborder, consisting of six tribes with 53 genera and 345 species.’
    • ‘Many genera in the subfamily Ambleminae, tribe Lampsilini exhibit sexual dimorphism.’


In historical contexts, the word tribe is broadly accepted (the area was inhabited by Slavic tribes), but in contemporary contexts, it is problematic when used to refer to a community living within a traditional society. It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists toward so-called primitive or uncivilized peoples living in remote undeveloped places. For this reason it is generally preferable to use alternative terms such as community or people


Middle English: from Old French tribu or Latin tribus (singular and plural); perhaps related to tri- ‘three’ and referring to the three divisions of the early people of Rome.