Long ago, a privately-owned ship used during wartime was known as a privateer. Often the captain and crew of such a ship were also called privateers.

The term privateer is sometimes used interchangeably with "pirate," and in fact these independent sailors frequently acted as pirates, looting and seizing other seagoing vessels for their own benefit. Originally, the term designated ships that were commissioned during wartime by a government, so they could aid in fighting the enemy at sea. The word comes from the phrase "private man of war," and is modeled after "volunteer" and "buccaneer."

Definitions of privateer
  1. noun
    a privately owned warship commissioned to prey on the commercial shipping or warships of an enemy nation
    see moresee less
    type of:
    combat ship, war vessel, warship
    a government ship that is available for waging war
  2. noun
    an officer or crew member of a privateer
    synonyms: privateersman
    see moresee less
    Sir John Hawkins
    English privateer involved in the slave trade; later helped build the fleet that in 1588 defeated the Spanish Armada (1532-1595)
    type of:
    crew member, crewman
    a member of a flight crew
    officer, ship's officer
    a person authorized to serve in a position of authority on a vessel
Word Family

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by’s experts.

  • Proven methods: Learn faster, remember longer with our scientific approach.
  • Personalized plan: We customize your experience to maximize your learning.
  • Strategic studying: Focus on the words that are most crucial for success.


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 8 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 10 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 700+
  • Duration: 10 weeks
  • Time: 1 hour / week