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

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 The lineup runs the gamut from rocker Robin Horlock (June 27) to contemporary a cappella group THUMMp (Aug. 15) and beyond. Erin Podolsky, Detroit Free Press, "Summer concert series offer free music under the sun and stars," 13 June 2018 Nearly every day, performers fill the Red Line's station at Lake with smooth electric guitar riffs, or soulful a cappella, or improvised raps, or—as was the case on the afternoon of May 15—a voice nearly identical to Sam Smith's. Maya Dukmasova, Chicago Reader, "News / Politics / Transportation Singer welcomed by America's Got Talent—but not the CTA," 12 June 2018 Singing to tracks or a cappella will not be allowed. Courant Community, "Community News For The Enfield Edition," 5 June 2018 Jiler and Stitt first met in 1997, when his a cappella musical Avenue X was at the Wilma. John Timpane, Philly.com, "'Big Red Sun': After 13 years, musical world-premieres at 11th Hour Theatre Company," 1 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

13 Aug 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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the setting in which something occurs

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