a cappella

adverb or adjective
a cap·​pel·​la | \ ˌä-kə-ˈpe-lə How to pronounce a cappella (audio) \
variants: or less commonly a capella

Definition of a cappella

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

Keep scrolling for more

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 Tran made her way to Palomar College and then UCLA, singing in a cappella groups. Washington Post, "Kelly Marie Tran’s journey to becoming a fighting Disney princess: ‘It feels like an absolute miracle’," 5 Mar. 2021 The grocery chain brought its kosher section to the store in 2014, an event that was celebrated with a cappella singers. Dakota Smith, Los Angeles Times, "Jewish community dismayed at Kroger’s closure of Ralphs in Pico-Robertson," 5 Apr. 2021 Early in 2009, Shaw’s friend Caleb Burhans, a composer, recommended her for a new a cappella ensemble named Roomful of Teeth. Jonathan Gharraie, The Atlantic, "Can Caroline Shaw Make Classical Cool?," 13 Feb. 2021 Often performing in the stairwell of an Arlington church in their videos, Kings Return captured the magic of an old-school a cappella group. Jeremy Hallock, Dallas News, "Kings Return’s biggest year was derailed by COVID-19," 29 Jan. 2021 Two discs are solo efforts: stately piano pieces played by Eri Yamamoto, and playful texts sung a cappella by Lisa Sokolov, all of them brief. Larry Blumenfeld, WSJ, "‘This Land’ by Theo Bleckmann and the Westerlies and ‘Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World, Volumes 1-10’ by William Parker Reviews: Refreshing the Protest Song," 9 Mar. 2021 Starting in 2014, Pentatonix began topping the pop charts, selling out arenas and forever erasing a cappella’s image as a dusty relic from the era of barbershop quartets. Thor Christensen, Dallas News, "Pentatonix put aside covers, deliver a cappella originals on ‘The Lucky Ones’," 2 Feb. 2021 Over three days in March, the a cappella vocal group recorded 19 songs that garnered millions of views on YouTube and Facebook, opening hearts that had been sequestered in fear and uncertainty. Rob Hubbard, Star Tribune, "Minnesota chorus rises to the occasion once again in 'Christmas With Cantus'," 11 Dec. 2020 The song was performed a cappella at her daughter’s funeral after Charlottesville. Washington Post, "The last day of Donald," 21 Jan. 2021

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.

See More

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"

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about a cappella

Time Traveler for a cappella

Time Traveler

The first known use of a cappella was in 1785

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about a cappella

Statistics for a cappella

Last Updated

1 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“A cappella.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/a%20cappella. Accessed 9 May. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for a cappella

a cappella


English Language Learners Definition of a cappella

: without instrumental music

More from Merriam-Webster on a cappella

Nglish: Translation of a cappella for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about a cappella

Comments on a cappella

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Star Wars Words Quiz

  • cu jedi training
  • The bounty portion of bounty hunters (such as Boba Fett) comes from a Latin word meaning
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!