Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Medical
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


noun con·text \ˈkän-ˌtekst\

Simple Definition of context

  • : the words that are used with a certain word or phrase and that help to explain its meaning

  • : the situation in which something happens : the group of conditions that exist where and when something happens

Full Definition of context

  1. 1 :  the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning

  2. 2 :  the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs :  environment, setting <the historical context of the war>

con·text·less play \-ˌtekst-ləs\ adjective
con·tex·tu·al play \kän-ˈteks-chə-wəl, kən-, -chəl, -chü-əl\ adjective
con·tex·tu·al·ly adverb

Examples of context

  1. … it was Dickens who first used the word ‘detective’ in a literary context … —John Mullan, How Novels Work, 2006

  2. Entrepreneurship and civil freedoms depend on a context of civil order, predictability, and individual security. —Susan L. Woodward, Balkan Tragedy, 1995

  3. … the old building, its original acre, inside its high outer wall, was immune to change, out of context and out of time. —Harriet Doerr, The Tiger in the Grass, 1995

  4. We need to look at the event within the larger context of world history.

  5. The book puts these events in their proper historical and social contexts.

  6. We need to consider these events in context.

Origin of context

Middle English, weaving together of words, from Latin contextus connection of words, coherence, from contexere to weave together, from com- + texere to weave — more at technical

First Known Use: circa 1568

CONTEXT Defined for Kids


noun con·text \ˈkän-ˌtekst\

Definition of context

  1. 1 :  the words that are used with a certain word in writing or speaking <Without the context, I don't know what he meant by the word “odd.”>

  2. 2 :  the situation in which something happens <The book considers her actions in their historical context.>

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up context? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


February 7, 2016

a slight offense

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of the following refers to thin, bending ice, or to the act of running over such ice?

pince-nez kittly-benders spindrift duvet
Name That Thing

10 quick questions: hear them, spell them, and see how your skills compare to the crowd.


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.