Pretentious vs portentous

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Pretentious and portentous are two words that are very close in pronunciation and spelling but have slightly different meanings. They are often confused. We will examine the definitions of the words pretentious and portentous, where these words came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Pretentious describes behaving as if one is more important, educated, or wealthy than one  is. A pretentious person may behave ostentatiously or imperiously, or may make actual claims of being more important, educated or wealthy than he actually is. The word pretentious is an adjective, related words are pretension, pretentiousness and pretentiously. The word pretentious is derived from the Latin word pretentionem which means pretension.

Portentous may describe someone who is behaving in a solemn manner in order to impress someone. Portentous may also describe anything that is serious or significant, or something that is ominous pertaining to the future. Related word are portent, portentousness and portentously. The word portentous is derived from the Latin word portentosus which means threatening or monstrous.


It earned those who had been following the story for the last 20 years the reputation of being pretentious know-it-alls who ruin things for everyone else. (The Niagara Gazette)

On the outside looking in, Los Angeles’ upscale nightlife can seem pretentious and business-driven, concerned mostly with big names, bottle service and bottom lines. (L.A. Weekly Magazine)

Director Kevin Sim was not afraid to pad out his paltry footage with sweeping analogies, news stories, emotive music and a portentous script. (The Telegraph)

In the first act her voice was richly portentous and coloured. (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Martial drumbeats and a bassy brass fanfare signalled the black-clad band’s portentous march on stage with Harvey taking her place in the line clutching a saxophone, her original instrument. (The Scotsman)