I am proofreading a doctoral thesis that has been written by a non-native English speaker (though the English level is quite high). I've never seen "ambition" used as a verb, but I did come across an article which mentioned that historically it was used as a verb with the meaning to campaign.

Here is the sentence: "(The school) ambitioned to join the local elite league and excel in the education of ‘high-achievers’".

  • 1
    If you're a native english speaker and it sounds really awkward to you - do you really need any other reason to rephrase it? by the way, I'm not a native speaker and even so it sounds really weird to me.
    – David Haim
    Aug 18, 2017 at 10:04
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    Just because something sounds awkward doesn't mean it's grammatically incorrect. Aug 18, 2017 at 10:10
  • language is a bit more than just grammar.
    – David Haim
    Aug 18, 2017 at 10:12
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    A lot of native English speakers come out with lots of stuff that sounds really awkward to me. On [the now odd] occasion, I see the need to adjust my perception of acceptability. But usage (non-count), not 'rules' (especially archaic ones) drives acceptability, and whether this usage (count) is 100% 'incorrect' or not, it sounds outlandish. Apply Orwell's Sixth. Aug 18, 2017 at 10:35

2 Answers 2


The OED has a verb entry for ambition, but no examples more recent than 1881. It is in two main senses, the first of which is obsolete and doesn't appear to have been used since James I was on the throne!

  1. To move to ambition, to make desirous. Obs.

    a1628 F. Greville Life of Sidney (1652) Ded. sig. A4 Who..hath ambition'd me to make this offering.

  2. To be ambitious of, to desire strongly.

    a. Const. simple obj.

    1664 Marquis of Worcester in H. Dircks Life 2nd Marquis Worcester (1865) xvii. 270 Whatever I have or do ambition.

    1776 H. Walpole in Last Jrnls. (1859) II. 51 The Bishop of Chester had ambitioned the Bishopric of Winchester.

    1823 I. D'Israeli Curiosities of Lit. 2nd Ser. I. 268 Every noble youth..ambitioned the notice of the Lady Arabella.

    1881 R. Pigott in Macmillan's Mag. Dec. 174/2 The Fenian leaders ambitioned not the extinction of landlordism, but rather the reconciliation of landlords and tenants.

    b. Const. inf. or clause.

    1694 J. Clayton in Philos. Trans. 1693 (Royal Soc.) 17 979 Each ambitioning to engross as much as they can.

    1818 T. Jefferson Writings (1830) IV. 453 Who ambitioned to be his correspondent.

    1871 H. Smart Cecile 5 Ambitioning that her lover should make his mark.

  • Googling for "he ambitioned" gives very few hits -and they're mostly from the 19th century which ties in with this answer.
    – k1eran
    Aug 18, 2017 at 10:06
  • Lack of post-Victorian citations in an OED entry for a word beginning with A does not necessarily imply that a usage has fallen into desuetude. Aug 18, 2017 at 13:10
  • @BrianDonovan Have you ever heard it used? I haven't. And whilst I have not been around since Queen Victoria was on the throne, I have been about for a long time!
    – WS2
    Aug 18, 2017 at 17:27
  • @WS2: No, and I was not questioning the thesis that the usage is obsolete--just one of the supporting inferences. Aug 18, 2017 at 21:01

Dictionary.com lists it as one of the definitions of the word ambition

verb (used with object) to seek after earnestly; aspire to.

However, neither Oxford nor Cambridge dictionaries seem to include it.

A Google Ngram suggests that it was once used, but may have become archaic.

  • Thanks for the feedback. I usually don't trust Dictionary.com, especially in the context of a doctoral thesis. I neither found it in Oxford nor Merriam-Webster. Aug 18, 2017 at 9:44

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