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From Middle English necessite, from Old French necessite, from Latin necessitās (unavoidableness, compulsion, exigency, necessity), from necesse (unavoidable, inevitable); see necessary.


  • IPA(key): /nɪˈsɛsəti/
  • Audio (US):(file)
  • Hyphenation: ne‧ces‧si‧ty



necessity (countable and uncountable, plural necessities)

  1. The quality or state of being necessary, unavoidable, or absolutely requisite.
    I bought a new table out of necessity. My old one was ruined.
    • 1985 December 7, Kim Westheimer, quoting Carol Brill, “Toy Dolls, Fake Dukakis 'Hear' Foster Testimony”, in Gay Community News, volume 13, number 21, page 1:
      Educating the public about some of the myths that underlie their fears that non-traditional families will of necessity be detrimental to the well-being of foster children.
    • 2013 June 28, Joris Luyendijk, “Our banks are out of control”, in The Guardian Weekly, volume 189, number 3, page 21:
      Seeing the British establishment struggle with the financial sector is like watching an alcoholic […].  Until 2008 there was denial over what finance had become. […]  But the scandals kept coming, […]. A broad section of the political class now recognises the need for change but remains unable to see the necessity of a fundamental overhaul.
  2. The condition of being needy; desperate need; lack.
    • 1863, Richard Sibbes, The Successful Seeker, in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes, D.D., Volume VI, James Nichol, page 125,
      For it is in vain for a man to think to seek God in his necessity and exigence, if he seek not God in his ordinances, and do not joy in them.
  3. Something necessary; a requisite; something indispensable.
    A tent is a necessity if you plan on camping.
    • 1967, Terry Gilkyson (lyrics and music), “The Bare Necessities”, in The Jungle Book:
      Look for the bare necessities / The simple bare necessities / Forget about your worries and your strife
    • 20th century, Tenzin Gyatso (attributed)
      Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.
  4. Something which makes an act or an event unavoidable; an irresistible force; overruling power.
    After eating a full meal, the human body's necessity for food will compel the person to eat again in the future.
    • 1804, The Small Celandine, Wordsworth:
      I stopped, and said with inly muttered voice,
      'It doth not love the shower, nor seek the cold:
      This neither is its courage nor its choice,
      But its necessity in being old.
  5. The negation of freedom in voluntary action; the subjection of all phenomena, whether material or spiritual, to inevitable causation; necessitarianism. (Can we add an example for this sense?)
  6. (law) Greater utilitarian good; used in justification of a criminal act.
  7. (law, in the plural) Indispensable requirements (of life).





Derived terms

Terms derived from "necessity"


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Further reading