Word of the Day

Nobel Prize

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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


an international prize given each year for outstanding achievement in a number of different fields

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary

Origin and usage

The compound noun Nobel prize is formed from the surname of Alfred Nobel, the prizes’ founder, and the noun ‘prize’. It has been in use since the end of the 19th century.


Nobel prizes are awarded annually for outstanding achievement in the fields of chemistry, physics, medicine, literature, economics, and for work towards world peace. Five were established in accordance with the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish engineer and chemist who died in 1896, and have been awarded since the start of the 20th century. The sixth, for economics, was instituted by the Bank of Sweden and has been awarded since 1969. The recipients of the prizes, which come with large cash awards, are chosen by committees from different Swedish institutions, with the exception of the peace prize*. This year’s Nobel season has started with the awards of the prizes for medicine and physics. Both prizes were divided between three scientists. The prize for medicine went to two Americans and a Brit for their work on the discovery of the hepatitis C virus. The physics medals were for work on black holes. The British mathematical physicist Roger Penrose received half the award for his work on the formation of black holes while the other half was divided between a German, Reinhard Genzel, and the American Andrea Ghez for their discovery of a supermassive black hole in the centre of the Milky Way. A winner of a Nobel prize is known as a laureate; of the six laureates named so far only one, Andrea Ghez, is a woman.

*The peace prize is awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, based at the Nobel Institute in Oslo. Thanks to Judith Hagen Meadow for pointing this out in the comment below.


As of 2019, the Nobel Prize have [sic] been awarded to women 53 times (Marie Curie is awarded twice).

Ghez, only the fourth woman to be awarded a Nobel prize in physics, said she was thrilled to receive the award.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2020 was awarded jointly to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice “for the discovery of Hepatitis C virus.

Related words

honour, award, accolade

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter


  • Hi! It was nice to see Nobel Prize defined this week. Shortly, the winner of the Peace Prize will be announced. I see in your definition that you mention that Swedish committees decide the winners of all the prizes. The Nobel Peace Prize, however, is determined by a Norwegian committee, not Swedish. Alfred Nobel wanted Oslo to have this honor. At the time Nobel wrote his will, Norway and Sweden were joined in a union which would be dissolved in 1905.

  • Thank you Judith! I should have done my research more carefully. Rather than just correcting the post I will leave your comment here, to remind me to check my facts.

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