Skip to main content

Ambition vs Aspiration vs Pretension

Ambition, Aspiration and Pretension mean strong desire for advancement.

Ambition has personal advancement or preferment as its end; it may be praiseworthy but is sometimes inordinate.

  • ambition for fame
  • ambition to hold office
  • ambition to acquire wealth
  • vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself

Aspiration implies as its object something felt to be above one, the striving after which is uplifting or ennobling.

  • aspiration after knowledge
  • that spirit of his in aspiration lifts him from the earth

Aspiration, however, is sometimes used especially in the plural in a derogatory sense of ambition which is felt to be unwarranted or presumptuous.

  • his aspirations must be nipped in the bud

Pretension (see also CLAIM, PRETENSE) may be preferred to aspiration in this latter sense, for it carries a hint of presumptuousness and, therefore, of lack of real claim to the powers which fulfillment of the ambition or aspiration requires.

  • they are always looked upon, either as neglected, or discontented because their pretensions have failed

More often pretension implies less driving power than ambition or aspiration and suggests the guidance of mere desire rather than the possession of the necessary gifts.

  • it was the undergraduate literary club, whose membership included all nice boys with literary pretensions