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


noun, cri·te·ri·on \krī-ˈtir-ē-ən also krə-\

Simple Definition of criterion

  • : something that is used as a reason for making a judgment or decision

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of criterion

plural -ria play \-ē-ə\ also criterions

  1. 1 :  a standard on which a judgment or decision may be based

  2. 2 :  a characterizing mark or trait

Usage Discussion of criterion

The plural criteria has been used as a singular for over half a century <let me now return to the third criteria — R. M. Nixon> <that really is the criteria — Bert Lance>. Many of our examples, like the two foregoing, are taken from speech. But singular criteria is not uncommon in edited prose, and its use both in speech and writing seems to be increasing. Only time will tell whether it will reach the unquestioned acceptability of agenda.

Examples of criterion in a sentence

  1. There is really only one criterion for a grab bag of culinary facts and anecdotes like this: It has to make you look up occasionally and remark, “Hey! I never knew that.” —Laura Shapiro, New York Times Book Review, 25 Dec. 1994

  2. … the induction committee waived its normal five-year retirement criteria for fear Kelley might never retire. —Todd Balf, Yankee, 4 Apr. 1992

  3. Christo argues that art must be measured by its effect on the shape of a community. By this criterion Running Fence was enormously successful. —O. B. Hardison, Jr., Disappearing Through the Skylight, 1989

  4. What were the criteria used to choose the winner?

  5. <one criterion for grading these essays will be their conformity to the rules of traditional grammar>

Origin of criterion

Greek kritērion, from krinein to judge, decide — more at certain

First Known Use: 1622

Synonym Discussion of criterion

standard, criterion, gauge, yardstick, touchstone mean a means of determining what a thing should be. standard applies to any definite rule, principle, or measure established by authority <standards of behavior>. criterion may apply to anything used as a test of quality whether formulated as a rule or principle or not <questioned the critic's criteria for excellence>. gauge applies to a means of testing a particular dimension (as thickness, depth, diameter) or figuratively a particular quality or aspect <polls as a gauge of voter dissatisfaction>. yardstick is an informal substitute for criterion that suggests quantity more often than quality <housing construction as a yardstick of economic growth>. touchstone suggests a simple test of the authenticity or value of something intangible <fine service is one touchstone of a first-class restaurant>.

Seen and Heard

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


tending to dismiss important matters

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!


Which of these is a synonym of nonplus?

perplex soothe reduce disapprove
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


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