1. Of or relating to a condition that is present at birth, as a result of either heredity or environmental influences: a congenital heart defect; congenital syphilis.
2. Usage Problem Being or having an essential characteristic as if by nature; inherent or inveterate: "the congenital American optimism that denies conflicts and imagines all stories having happy endings" (Robert J. Samuelson).
[From Latin congenitus : com-, com- + genitus, born, past participle of gignere, to bear; see genə- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: The Usage Panel is divided evenly on the use of congenital to mean "inveterate." In our 2008 survey, only 50 percent accepted this word in a sentence with the phrase "the most congenital skeptic."
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.
American Heritage Dictionary Products
The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition
The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
The American Heritage Roget's Thesaurus
Curious George's Dictionary
The American Heritage Children's Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots
The American Heritage Student Grammar Dictionary
The American Heritage Desk Dictionary + Thesaurus
The American Heritage Science Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Business Terms
The American Heritage Student Dictionary
The American Heritage Essential Student Thesaurus