Here's a definition of the word 'pretence' (or 'pretense'). I don't really understand the second meaning, which is not the act of pretending, but "a claim (especially a false or ambitious one) that you have a particular quality or skill". I'm not a native speaker and I guess there's no such word in my first language.

For example, I suppose that the following sentence

John makes no pretence to being an expert on the subject.

means that John doesn't claim to be an expert. So, we could infer that he is kind of modest, right?

On the other hand, here's an example that I can't comprehend:

a woman with some pretence to beauty

Does the word 'pretence' in this context describe the woman's or other people's attitude towards her beauty?

4 Answers 4


I think that was a rather strained usage for the dictionary to use as an example.

In general when we say "pretense", we mean a false or exaggerated claim. Like, "George made a pretense of being a great piano player". The use of "pretense" here implies that George was, in fact, not a great piano player.

A pretense need not be spoken. It can be implied by a person's actions. Like, "Mr Jones strode into the room and immediately tried to take charge, putting on the pretense of being a man of great wisdom and capability." Mr Jones need not have actually said, "I am the most capable person here", he just acted as if he was.

But if we say, "Sally had a pretense of beauty", that's more of an odd case. I think when people say that they mean that she wasn't beautiful in any concrete way, but there was something about here that gave off an aura as if she was beautiful. That is, while usually when we say that someone spoke or acted pretentiously it is an insult, in this case it is something of a compliment. Like saying, "He never went to school for this, but managed to learn it on it his own."


I interpret "a woman with some pretence to beauty" as meaning "a woman who is somewhat beautiful, but it would be an exaggeration to call her a great beauty." This usage does not imply that the woman calls herself beautiful. Instead, her appearance makes the claim for her.

For example, the woman might be one of the hundred prettiest women in a small city, but not one of the ten prettiest women in a state or country.


I would read a woman with some pretense to beauty as an observation by another person that the woman was somewhat attractive, possibly by being well dressed and groomed, although she was not very beautiful. For example, "Sarah was a woman with some pretense to beauty, but her sister was so lovely that all eyes were on her whenever she entered a room."


To say that she has some pretense—some claim—to beauty does not imply that she or anyone else asserts that claim, merely that there are grounds for the claim and it may be asserted by anyone who cares to assert it about her.

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