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


adjective mar·gin·al \ˈmärj-nəl, ˈmär-jə-nəl\

Simple Definition of marginal

  • : not very important

  • : very slight or small

  • : not included in the main part of society or of a group

Full Definition of marginal

  1. 1 :  written or printed in the margin of a page or sheet <marginal notes>

  2. 2 a :  of, relating to, or situated at a margin or border b :  not of central importance <regards violence as a marginal rather than a central problem>; also :  limited in extent, significance, or stature <had only marginal success with the business> c (1) :  occupying the borderland of a relatively stable territorial or cultural area <marginal tribes> (2) :  characterized by the incorporation of habits and values from two divergent cultures and by incomplete assimilation in either <the marginal cultural habits of new immigrant groups> (3) :  excluded from or existing outside the mainstream of society, a group, or a school of thought <marginal voters>

  3. 3 :  located at the fringe of consciousness <marginal sensations>

  4. 4 a :  close to the lower limit of qualification, acceptability, or function :  barely exceeding the minimum requirements <a semiliterate person of marginal ability> b (1) :  having a character or capacity fitted to yield a supply of goods which when marketed at existing price levels will barely cover the cost of production <marginal land> (2) :  of, relating to, or derived from goods produced and marketed with such result <marginal profits>

  5. 5 :  relating to or being a function of a random variable that is obtained from a function of several random variables by integrating or summing over all possible values of the other variables <a marginal probability function>

mar·gin·al·i·ty play \ˌmär-jə-ˈna-lə-tē\ noun
mar·gin·al·ly play \ˈmärj-nə-lē, ˈmär-jə-nəl-ē\ adverb

Examples of marginal

  1. There has been only a marginal improvement in her condition.

  2. His reading and writing abilities are marginal.

Origin of marginal

Medieval Latin marginalis, from Latin margin-, margo

First Known Use: 1573

Medical Dictionary


adjective mar·gin·al \ˈmärj-nəl, -ən-əl\

Medical Definition of marginal

  1. 1:  of, relating to, or situated at a margin or border

  2. 2:  located at the fringe of consciousness <marginal sensations>

Seen and Heard

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


February 9, 2016

marked by high spirits and laughter

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?

spindrift pince-nez duvet kittly-benders
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.