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at·​tri·​bute ˈa-trə-ˌbyüt How to pronounce attribute (audio)
: a quality, character, or characteristic ascribed to someone or something
has leadership attributes
: an object closely associated with or belonging to a specific person, thing, or office
a scepter is the attribute of power
especially : such an object used for identification in painting or sculpture
grammar : a word ascribing a quality
especially : adjective


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at·​trib·​ute ə-ˈtri-ˌbyüt How to pronounce attribute (audio)
attributed; attributing

transitive verb

: to explain (something) by indicating a cause
He attributed his success to hard work.
: to regard as a characteristic of a person or thing
should not attribute adult reasoning to children
: to reckon as made or originated in an indicated fashion
attributed the invention to a Russian
attributable adjective

Did you know?

Attribute means something rather similar to "pay tribute". So, for example, an award winner who pays tribute to an inspiring professor is, in a sense, attributing her success to the professor. Though if you attribute your fear of dogs to an incident in your childhood, you're not exactly praising the nasty dog that bit you way back when. The second sense of attribute is slightly different: If you attribute bad motives to a politician, it means you think he or she is doing things for the wrong reasons (even if you don't have any proof). When attribute is accented on its first syllable, it's being used as a noun, usually as a synonym for quality. So, for instance, you may believe that an even temper is an attribute of the best presidents, or that cheerfulness is your spouse's best attribute.

Choose the Right Synonym for attribute


quality, property, character, attribute mean an intelligible feature by which a thing may be identified.

quality is a general term applicable to any trait or characteristic whether individual or generic.

material with a silky quality

property implies a characteristic that belongs to a thing's essential nature and may be used to describe a type or species.

the property of not conducting heat

character applies to a peculiar and distinctive quality of a thing or a class.

remarks of an unseemly character

attribute implies a quality ascribed to a thing or a being.

the attributes of a military hero


ascribe, attribute, assign, impute, credit mean to lay something to the account of a person or thing.

ascribe suggests an inferring or conjecturing of cause, quality, authorship.

forged paintings formerly ascribed to masters

attribute suggests less tentativeness than ascribe, less definiteness than assign.

attributed to Rembrandt but possibly done by an associate

assign implies ascribing with certainty or after deliberation.

assigned the bones to the Cretaceous period

impute suggests ascribing something that brings discredit by way of accusation or blame.

tried to impute sinister motives to my actions

credit implies ascribing a thing or especially an action to a person or other thing as its agent, source, or explanation.

credited his teammates for his success

Examples of attribute in a Sentence

Noun The interviewer asked me what I consider to be my best attribute. Both candidates possess the attributes we want in a leader. Verb attributed the quick rescue to the well-trained police force a psychotherapist who's a little too quick to attribute every emotional problem or character defect to an unhappy childhood
Recent Examples on the Web
However, Thune and Cornyn share an attribute that could complicate their path to leadership: Both have criticized former President Donald Trump and have openly hoped that another candidate would win the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. Grace Segers, The New Republic, 20 Sep. 2023 The suit provided various instances of misuse of his attributes. Naman Ramachandran, Variety, 20 Sep. 2023 Perhaps Daryl’s most noble attribute is his instinctual protective nature, something that tends to give him purpose. Daniel Dockery, Vulture, 7 Sep. 2023 The new Mitsubishi Montero Sport's attributes follow the principles of automotive feng shui: (1) The pedals are close together, and the control action of the brakes, clutch, and throttle is smooth on the road. Phil Berg, Car and Driver, 5 Sep. 2023 But perhaps one of our favorite attributes is just how quiet this microwave is. Brigitt Earley, Good Housekeeping, 31 Aug. 2023 Turning the team over to McCord now makes all of those vital attributes more attainable. Nathan Baird, cleveland, 12 Sep. 2023 Aside from typeface, a slew of other attributes can factor into the message that house numbers send. Rachel Kurzius, Washington Post, 31 Aug. 2023 Our Testing Process Eight testers evaluated 16 nursing pillows in the comfort of their homes for one month, assessing each on several attributes, including quality, ease of cleaning, support, and overall value. Katrina Cossey, Parents, 29 Aug. 2023
The increase could be attributed to drivers taking longer trips or entering the lanes during periods of heavier traffic. Michael Laris, Washington Post, 22 Sep. 2023 The Canadian guidelines estimate one additional premature death in 1,000 could be attributed to alcohol for those who have two drinks a week. Lydia Denworth, Scientific American, 21 Sep. 2023 This steep increase, which was accompanied by a general rise in poverty among all age groups, was preceded by two years of declining poverty rates, which were largely attributed to support offered by the federal government during the pandemic. Isaac Chotiner, The New Yorker, 20 Sep. 2023 On a podcast interview last week, Gulden attributed West’s statements to his artistic temperament. Paolo Confino, Fortune, 20 Sep. 2023 From the following year on, a series of attacks and ship seizures attributed to Iran have raised tensions. Jon Gambrell, ajc, 19 Sep. 2023 Taking a similar approach, former biotech CEO Vivek Ramaswamy attributed the issues to Biden as well. Julia Johnson, Washington Examiner, 19 Sep. 2023 Men tend to have higher levels than women, which researchers attribute to menstruation helping eliminate the chemicals from the body. Patricia Kime, Hannah Norman, Kff Health News, Anchorage Daily News, 16 Sep. 2023 Judd King attributes his Utah upbringing, in part, to his success as a toymaker. Shannon Sollitt, The Salt Lake Tribune, 16 Sep. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Noun and Verb

Middle English, from Latin attributus, past participle of attribuere to attribute, from ad- + tribuere to bestow — more at tribute

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1530, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of attribute was in the 14th century

Cite this Entry

“Attribute.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
at·​tri·​bute ˈa-trə-ˌbyüt How to pronounce attribute (audio)
: a quality belonging to a particular person or thing
: a word that indicates a quality
especially : adjective


2 of 2 verb
at·​trib·​ute ə-ˈtrib-yət How to pronounce attribute (audio)
attributed; attributing
: to explain as the cause of
attribute our success to hard work
: to think of as likely to be a quality of a person or thing
attribute stubbornness to mules
attributable adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on attribute

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