Merriam Webster def "charlatan" : one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability: FRAUD, FAKER a charlatan willing to do and say virtually anything to remain in the spotlight

TFD def "Pretense" 4. A claim or assertion to a right, especially a false one: "a celebrity with scarcely any pretense to talent or achievement" (Joseph Epstein).

Does this mean that a charlatan is claiming that he has knowledge about a particular subject in a showy way?

I'm confused because there's another definition of the word "pretense" meaning: : false show: SIMULATION saw through his pretense of indifference

But the difference between the two definitions is that I noticed that the first definition if used with the word "to" and the latter with "of" Therefore i believe "pretense to knowledge" means "claim to knowledge"

  • 1
    Both definitions refer to false claims. "Pretense" is similar to "Pretend" which is the verb version. "The charlatan is pretending that they are knowledgeable or skilled" is the same as saying "The charlatan is making pretenses to knowledge or skill" or "The charlatan is putting on the appearance of one who is knowledgeable or skilled".
    – mjjf
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 17:06
  • To answer your question: Yes, it does.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 21:55

1 Answer 1


It's reasonable to be concerned about the "to" vs "of" versions—words have multiple uses and meanings, and one clue to tell the difference can be which "helping words" they appear with.

But in this case the two add up to pretty much the same thing.

  • "pretense to [noun]", e.g. "pretense to knowledge": a false claim to [possess] knowledge. "Pretense to royalty": a false claim to be king.
  • "pretense of [noun]", e.g. "a pretense of knowledge": giving a false impression of knowledge. "Pretense of enjoyment": making it appear that you're enjoying something that you're actually not.

In this case there's very little difference between "claiming" knowledge and "giving the impression of" knowledge.

  • Andy Bonner@: I understand that the meaning will be, essentially the same, with both of these definitions. But can I know, for certain, in this case, based on those helping words(of/to), which definition is this exactly? I.e can I know for certain that "pretense to" will always mean "claim to"? Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 0:43
  • 1
    @StaticBounce No, you can't count on it. "Pretense to" can also be used when "to" is part of an infinitive verb, like "pretense to enjoy herself," in which case it's more about giving an impression once again. But the more I think about it, the less difference in meaning there is. "Giving a false impression" and "making a false claim" are very linked. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 0:57

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