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
: 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 On top of those editions, Montana has also included a sped-up, slowed-down, instrumental, and a cappella take on each of the tracks. Hugh McIntyre, Forbes, 23 Feb. 2024 The group sings in four-part a cappella style known as barbershop, which is made of four different vocal parts singing together in harmony. Linda McIntosh, San Diego Union-Tribune, 16 Feb. 2024 Her slick harmonies and impassioned vocal performance soar on the a cappella version, while Rhiannon Giddens‘ plucky banjo and Raphael Saadiq‘s regal organ keys shine in the instrumental version. Kyle Denis, Billboard, 15 Feb. 2024 There’s gonna be a lot of interesting a cappella covers happening from UMG artists until this is settled. Daniel Kreps, Rolling Stone, 2 Feb. 2024 Many songs will be selected from the Great American Songbook and performed a cappella or with the student rhythm section. Linda McIntosh, San Diego Union-Tribune, 9 Dec. 2023 Videos from the night captured the musician — who was about 30 minutes late to the gig — attempting to stay onstage and sing a cappella with the crowd before security escorted her away. Hannah Dailey, Billboard, 4 Dec. 2023 In the original 2004 movie, the music cuts out, and Cady saves the day by singing the song a cappella. Moises Mendez Ii, TIME, 12 Jan. 2024 Some of this year’s attractions includes lights installations, a northern holiday frontier trail, a Santa Claus factory, holiday a cappella quartet performances and Aurora, the zoo’s 3D projection mapping, music and lights performance. Carlos Rico, San Diego Union-Tribune, 18 Dec. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'a cappella.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

1785, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of a cappella was in 1785

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Cite this Entry

“A cappella.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/a%20cappella. Accessed 5 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

a cappella

adverb or adjective
a cap·​pel·​la
variants also a capella
: without accompanying instrumental music
sing a cappella
Etymology

from Italian a cappella "in chapel style"

More from Merriam-Webster on a cappella

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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