a cappella

adverb or adjective
a cap·​pel·​la | \ˌä-kə-ˈpe-lə \
variants: or less commonly a capella

Definition of a cappella 

: without instrumental accompaniment The choir sang the chants a cappella.

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A Cappella Has Italian Roots

A cappella arrived in English from Italian sometime around the late-18th century. In Italian, a cappella means "in chapel or choir style." Cappella is the Italian word for "chapel"; the English word chapel is ultimately (if independently) derived from the Medieval Latin word cappella, which is the source of the Italian cappella as well. Scholars once thought all "chapel style" music written before the 1600s was performed a cappella, but modern research has revealed that instruments might have doubled or substituted for some voices back then. Today a cappella describes a purely vocal performance.

Examples of a cappella in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Midwest Vocal Express, a male a cappella chorus, will be performing a free show at 7 p.m. July 14. Hannah Kirby, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "5 Things-to-do this week in the southwest suburbs," 9 July 2018 The varied lineup of performers includes the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett, the Temptations, a cappella group Pentatonix, country music’s Lauren Alaina and Luke Combs, gospel singer CeCe Winans, opera great Renée Fleming and violinist Joshua Bell. Ed Stockly, latimes.com, "Wednesday's TV highlights: Independence Day specials and more," 4 July 2018 During his time at Penn, Legend was known for his performances as part of Counterparts, an a cappella group at the school, as well as his piano playing, the Daily Pennsylvanian reports. Nick Vadala, Philly.com, "Penn alum John Legend's voice is coming to Google Assistant," 9 May 2018 The Maccabeats a cappella group from Yeshiva University sang the National Anthem at Marlins Park on Tuesday. Gabriel T. Rubin, WSJ, "Baseball Rules Are Complicated Enough, Now Add Passover," 5 Apr. 2018 But their brief a cappella rendition of the tune was enjoyed by the audience who were singing along to the catchy chorus. Bianca Gracie, Billboard, "Watch Dan + Shay Bring Some 'Tequila' to 2018 ACM Awards Performance," 15 Apr. 2018 Pentatonix, the a cappella group founded by former Arlington residents Mitch Grassi, Scott Hoying and Kirstin Maldonado, is having a busy TV week. Robert Philpot, star-telegram, "ICYMI: Pentatonix gets your 'Attention' on 'GMA'," 3 July 2018 In this chapter of the a cappella comedy, Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, and Anna Camp reunite their fellow alum with Hailee Steinfeld's crew for one last string of performances together. Harper's Bazaar Staff, Harper's BAZAAR, "The New Pitch Perfect 3 Trailer Will Make You Emotional," 25 Sep. 2017 At Mizzou, Bruce directed a co-ed a cappella group called Mizzou Forte. Katy Bergen, kansascity, "You’ll see this Mizzou grad in the national tour of ‘Hamilton: An American Musical’," 18 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'a cappella.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of a cappella

1785, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for a cappella

borrowed from Italian a cappella "in chapel or choir style"

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Last Updated

24 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for a cappella

The first known use of a cappella was in 1785

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More Definitions for a cappella

a cappella


English Language Learners Definition of a cappella

: without instrumental music

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