al·​go·​rithm ˈal-gə-ˌri-t͟həm How to pronounce algorithm (audio)
: a procedure for solving a mathematical problem (as of finding the greatest common divisor) in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation
broadly : a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end
There are several search engines, with Google, Yahoo and Bing being the biggest players. Each search engine has its own proprietary computation (called an "algorithm") that ranks websites for each keyword or combination of keywords. Julie Brinton
… sometimes you solve a problem by coming up with an algorithm of some kind. But sometimes you solve a problem in a very ad hoc sort of way. William H. Huggins
algorithmic adjective
algorithmically adverb

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What Does algorithm Mean?

The current term of choice for a problem-solving procedure, algorithm, is commonly used nowadays for the set of rules a machine (and especially a computer) follows to achieve a particular goal. It does not always apply to computer-mediated activity, however. The term may as accurately be used of the steps followed in making a pizza or solving a Rubik’s Cube as for computer-powered data analysis.

Algorithm is often paired with words specifying the activity for which a set of rules have been designed. A search algorithm, for example, is a procedure that determines what kind of information is retrieved from a large mass of data. An encryption algorithm is a set of rules by which information or messages are encoded so that unauthorized persons cannot read them.

Though first attested in the early 20th century (and, until recently, used strictly as a term of mathematics and computing), algorithm has a surprisingly deep history. It was formed from algorism “the system of Arabic numerals,” a word that goes back to Middle English and ultimately stems from the name of a 9th-century Persian mathematician, abu-Jaʽfar Mohammed ibn-Mūsa al-Khuwārizmi, who did important work in the fields of algebra and numeric systems.

Examples of algorithm in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web But those data points offered some of the only clues that social media researchers can use to evaluate TikTok’s algorithm, which promotes content in an opaque way to a user base that now includes 170 million accounts across the United States. Drew Harwell, Washington Post, 8 Feb. 2024 Their work involves guaranteeing the results of the machine-learning algorithms that are used to inform autonomous vehicles. Steve Nadis, WIRED, 4 Feb. 2024 Copyright Another hot-button issue, with authors and artists filing a slew of lawsuits in U.S. courts, claiming that several companies have used their content to train algorithms, without their consent. Vivienne Walt, Fortune, 1 Feb. 2024 The algorithms that power these platforms focus on videos that get a lot of attention in the forms of shares and likes., The Mercury News, 31 Jan. 2024 Duties include developing algorithms, proposing improvements and contributing to the company intellectual property portfolio. Brayden Garcia, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 30 Jan. 2024 The French streaming service Deezer, for example, now counts an instance of someone searching for and listening to a song—rather than listening after it has been served up by an algorithm—as two streams. John Seabrook, The New Yorker, 29 Jan. 2024 In other states, platforms have been required to conduct child safety assessments and change algorithms for minors. Essence, 26 Jan. 2024 Problems of racial and gender bias in artificial intelligence algorithms and the data used to train large language models like ChatGPT have drawn the attention of researchers and generated headlines. Mark Paterson, The Conversation, 26 Jan. 2024 See More

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

Word History


alteration of Middle English algorisme, from Old French & Medieval Latin; Old French, from Medieval Latin algorismus, from Arabic al-khuwārizmi, from al-Khwārizmī flourished a.d. 825 Islamic mathematician

First Known Use

1926, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of algorithm was in 1926

Dictionary Entries Near algorithm

Cite this Entry

“Algorithm.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


al·​go·​rithm ˈal-gə-ˌrit͟h-əm How to pronounce algorithm (audio)
: a step-by-step method for solving a problem (as finding the greatest common divisor) or accomplishing a goal

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