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pe·​cu·​liar pi-ˈkyül-yər How to pronounce peculiar (audio)
: characteristic of only one person, group, or thing : distinctive
… a drowsy fervour of manner and tone which was quite peculiar to her.Thomas Hardy
: different from the usual or normal:
: special, particular
a matter of peculiar interest
: odd, curious
It seems peculiar that she would leave town without telling anybody.
: eccentric, unusual
The play had a zany plot and very peculiar characters.
peculiarly adverb


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pe·​cu·​liar pi-ˈkyül-yər How to pronounce peculiar (audio)
: something exempt from ordinary jurisdiction
especially : a church or parish exempt from the jurisdiction of the ordinary in whose territory it lies

Did you know?

Peculiar Has Latin Roots

It might strike you as odd that the origins of peculiar are livestock-related, so let us explain. The word's Latin ancestor, peculiaris, means "privately owned, extraordinary"; it traces back to pecu, meaning "cattle," by way of peculium, meaning "private property"—cattle of course being a particular kind of private property. Given the monetary value historically placed in cattle, it makes sense that pecu has given us several money-related words, including pecuniary ("of or relating to money"), peculate ("to embezzle"), and impecunious ("having very little or no money"). Peculiar honed in on the "extraordinary" meaning of peculiaris, applying to what is characteristic of only one individual, group, or thing. In modern use that sense is commonly followed by the preposition to, as in "a tradition peculiar to their family." The "odd" and "eccentric" meanings of peculiar are extensions of that sense, and are now the word's most common applications.

Choose the Right Synonym for peculiar

characteristic, individual, peculiar, distinctive mean indicating a special quality or identity.

characteristic applies to something that distinguishes or identifies a person or thing or class.

responded with her characteristic wit

individual stresses qualities that distinguish one from all other members of the same kind or class.

a highly individual writing style

peculiar applies to qualities possessed only by a particular individual or class or kind and stresses rarity or uniqueness.

an eccentricity that is peculiar to the British

distinctive indicates qualities distinguishing and uncommon and often superior or praiseworthy.

a distinctive aura of grace and elegance

strange, singular, unique, peculiar, eccentric, erratic, odd, quaint, outlandish mean departing from what is ordinary, usual, or to be expected.

strange stresses unfamiliarity and may apply to the foreign, the unnatural, the unaccountable.

a journey filled with strange sights

singular suggests individuality or puzzling strangeness.

a singular feeling of impending disaster

unique implies singularity and the fact of being without a known parallel.

a career unique in the annals of science

peculiar implies a marked distinctiveness.

the peculiar status of America's First Lady

eccentric suggests a wide divergence from the usual or normal especially in behavior.

the eccentric eating habits of preschoolers

erratic stresses a capricious and unpredictable wandering or deviating.

a friend's suddenly erratic behavior

odd applies to a departure from the regular or expected.

an odd sense of humor

quaint suggests an old-fashioned but pleasant oddness.

a quaint fishing village

outlandish applies to what is uncouth, bizarre, or barbaric.

outlandish fashions of the time

Example Sentences

Adjective As military coups go, this was a most peculiar one, bloodless, and in Bangkok at least quite popular. Ian Buruma, New York Review, 1 Mar. 2007
Right about then, Ensberg got himself back on the field, where a peculiar thing happened: he stopped thinking. Tom Friend, ESPN, 28 Aug. 2006
I smell again the peculiar and dynamic smell of Gillespie's science room. Muriel Spark, Curriculum Vitae, (1992) 1993
It seems peculiar that he would leave town and not tell anybody. The dog's peculiar behavior worried them. She got a peculiar feeling when the phone rang. She had a peculiar expression on her face. See More
Recent Examples on the Web
It’s been a peculiar volleyball season for most NCAA programs amid the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s been even stranger in the Big 12, which implemented a fall/spring schedule to spread out matches. Nick Moyle, San Antonio Express-News, 22 Apr. 2021 No single figure embodies this peculiar tendency better than Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who not only perfected the German con but also plays a prominent role in the Wirecard saga. Adrian Daub, The New Republic, 21 Apr. 2021 As Pfizer-BioNTech began shipping out its Covid-19 vaccinations in the US in December, pharmacists administering the jabs noticed something peculiar: Each vial of vaccine, labeled to hold five doses, contained a little extra fluid—enough, in fact, for a sixth dose. Katherine Ellen Foley, Quartz, 25 Feb. 2021 The buzzing of cars audible from the Kent-Millard land is still a bit peculiar for the siblings, who are trying to find their place in a new Lusby. Lateshia Beachum, Washington Post, 14 June 2023 An early customer was the late actress Carol Channing, who had peculiar eating habits due to allergies, including bringing her own food to fancy restaurants in her purse. Larry Edelman,, 20 Mar. 2023 Two particularly nasty instances in the past few months have put the spotlight on a peculiar problem facing airlines that operate in or fly to India: uncouth passengers. Niharika Sharma, Quartz, 7 Mar. 2023 The Witch Queen expansion for Destiny 2 that the sibylline messenger of the Darkness, known as the Witness, was identified, giving players a closer look inside the Pyramid Fleet—where its peculiar design revealed characteristics of this long-standing, elusive enemy. Saniya Ahmed, WIRED, 8 Feb. 2023 Levy hadn’t thought much about vehicles per se, but her mixed academic background—she was also trained as a lawyer—predisposed her to reflect on situations that dramatized the peculiar relationship between formal codes (the realm of the law) and practical expediency (the realm of the ethnographer). Gideon Lewis-Kraus, The New Yorker, 31 Jan. 2023
Still, the peculiar is a powerful driver of overall creepiness. Nathaniel Scharping, Discover Magazine, 7 Apr. 2016 This compendium, based on imagery collected by instruments aboard the Mars Odyssey spacecraft and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, inventories over 1,000 candidate caves and other peculiar-looking features on Mars. Katherine Kornei, New York Times, 29 Oct. 2022 However one interprets that, Tyler, the Creator certainly managed to bring the peculiar and the unique to the stage while reaching out to fans old and new. Chris Willman, Variety, 5 Sep. 2022 Former members who have turned away, in addition to followers of other faiths, don’t want to be this version of peculiar at all. Gordon Monson, The Salt Lake Tribune, 20 June 2022 And the company is faced with a peculiar (but not uncommon) state law that prohibits car companies from selling directly to customers, which will force the company to take a roundabout route to reach its Texan buyers. Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz, 8 Oct. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'peculiar.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Adjective and Noun

Middle English peculier, from Latin peculiaris of private property, special, from peculium private property, from pecu cattle; akin to Latin pecus cattle — more at fee

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1562, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of peculiar was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near peculiar

Cite this Entry

“Peculiar.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Jul. 2023.

Kids Definition


: characteristic of only one person, thing, or place
a custom peculiar to England
: different from the usual or normal
peculiar behavior
peculiarly adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on peculiar

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