bi·​na·​ry | \ˈbī-nə-rē, -ˌner-ē, -ˌne-rē \
plural binaries

Definition of binary 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : something made of two things or parts specifically : binary star

2 mathematics : a number system based only on the numerals 0 and 1 : a binary (see binary entry 2 sense 3a) number system 42 is written as 101010 in binary.

3 : a division into two groups or classes that are considered diametrically opposite … human sexuality is more complicated than the simple binary of "homosexuals" and "heterosexuals."Ms



Definition of binary (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : compounded or consisting of or marked by two things or parts

2 music

a : duple used of measure or rhythm

b : having two musical subjects or two complementary sections a song in binary form

3a mathematics : relating to, being, or belonging to a system of numbers having 2 as its base the binary digits 0 and 1

b : involving a choice or condition of two alternatives (such as on-off or yes-no)

4a chemistry : composed of two elements (see element sense 2e), an element and a radical (see radical entry 2 sense 4) that acts as an element, or two such radicals

b : utilizing two harmless ingredients that upon combining form a lethal substance (such as a gas) binary weapons

5 : relating two logical or mathematical elements a binary operation

6 : of or relating to the use of stable oppositions (such as good and evil) to analyze a subject or create a structural model the binary opposition of male and female— Joan W. Scott

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Synonyms & Antonyms for binary

Synonyms: Adjective

bipartite, double, double-barreled, double-edged, dual, duplex, twin, twofold

Antonyms: Adjective


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Did You Know?


The animals went in two by two, the elephant and the kangaroo. . .. It was a binary parade of sorts that went into Noah's ark "for to get out of the rain" - the critters were represented in pairs. If you recall those partnered beasts, you'll remember the etymology of binary, because it traces to the Latin bini, which translates as "two by two." Although "binary" can be used for anything with two parts, it is now used especially in relation to computers and information processing. Digital computers use the binary number system, which includes only the digits 0 and 1, to process even complex data. In binary form, for instance, the word HELLO looks like this: 1001000 1000101 1001100 1001100 1001111.

Examples of binary in a Sentence


a binary star is a system of two stars that revolve around each other under their mutual gravitation

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Public discussion about recreational legalization is, generally, more binary. German Lopez, Vox, "The midterm elections will give some voters a chance to legalize marijuana," 6 Nov. 2018 She's not confined by standards, or labels, or even the gender binary. Megan Lasher, Seventeen, "Lauren Jauregui Doesn't Date According to the Gender Binary," 5 Sep. 2018 Besides the fact that placing foods on a good-bad binary is counterproductive and perpetuates toxic ways of thinking about food, this good/bad thinking also gives non-Eurocentric foods a bad rap. Tamara Melton, SELF, "Our Idea of Healthy Eating Excludes Other Cultures, and That's a Problem," 31 July 2018 There’s an ongoing waltz in the poem between binaries of camaraderie and isolation, synthesis and division, creation and destruction, harmony and chaos. Tyler Malone,, "The road taken by Robert Frost through New England," 29 June 2018 Another term often used to describe someone whose gender identity is outside the strict male/female binary. Michael Gold, New York Times, "The ABCs of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+," 21 June 2018 Pansexuality has much to do with the rejection of a gender binary to begin with. Stephen Daw, Billboard, "Everything You Need to Know About Pansexuality," 9 July 2018 Historically, drag kings have been thought of as cisgender women dressing up as cisgender men, but as fluid understandings of gender and sexuality evolve, the male/female binary of drag is fading. Kt Hawbaker,, "Chicago's drag kings are out to destroy 'toxic masculinity,' one sequin and pelvic thrust at a time," 4 Apr. 2018 Which means the guy not only knows about event horizons and gravitational lensing but stuff like tidal forces (what!), x-ray binaries (hey now!), and active galactic nuclei (oh my god!). Robbie Gonzalez, WIRED, "An Astronomer Explains Black Holes at 5 Levels of Difficulty," 5 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

In other words, reduce everything to a binary question of believers vs. deniers, good guys vs. bad guys. Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, "Press Is the Enemy of Climate," 4 Dec. 2018 But such projections are grossly misleading because of the binary thinking that undergirds them and the misclassification of individuals who are partly white and partly minority. Richard Alba, Washington Post, "There’s a big problem with how the census measures race," 6 Feb. 2018 Kipping and Teachey have rejected the idea that the two objects could be binary planets, in which two planets have a barycenter—or common point of gravity—in space rather than inside either planet, meaning one's gravity doesn't dominate the other. John Wenz, Popular Mechanics, "We're Close To Confirming the Very First Exomoon," 3 Oct. 2018 But in American politics what really matters are choices in binary votes. Chris Stirewalt, Fox News, "Fox News Power Rankings: Candidates still count," 24 Aug. 2018 Now, advertisers that are approved by Facebook through an application process can promote crypto products, though ads promoting binary options and ICOs, initial coin offerings, are still banned. Kurt Wagner, Recode, "Facebook is reversing its ban on cryptocurrency ads," 26 June 2018 Ilya Parker is a non-binary trans masculine person of color currently living in Charlotte, NC. SELF, "How to Make Your Gym or Fitness Space More Inclusive and Welcoming for Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People," 30 Oct. 2018 All this growth only underscores the city’s binary nature, says Caine. Patrick Sisson, Curbed, "San Antonio, the nation’s fastest-growing city, sees downtown rebound," 23 Oct. 2018 The economic imperative to is to keep the conversation on whatever the issue is of the day, and to keep the debate pretty binary. Julia Felsenthal, Vogue, "The Final Year," 17 Jan. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'binary.' 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 binary


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1597, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for binary


see binary entry 2


Late Latin binarius, from Latin bini two by two — more at bin-

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Last Updated

10 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for binary

The first known use of binary was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for binary



English Language Learners Definition of binary

: relating to or consisting of two things or parts

: relating to or involving a method of calculating and of representing information especially in computers by using the numbers 0 and 1


bi·​na·​ry | \ˈbī-nə-rē \

Kids Definition of binary

: of, relating to, or being a number system with a base of 2 The two binary digits are 0 and 1.


bi·​na·​ry | \ˈbī-nə-rē, -ˌner-ē \

Medical Definition of binary 

1 : compounded or consisting of or marked by two things or parts

2a : composed of two chemical elements, an element and a radical that acts as an element, or two such radicals

b : utilizing two harmless ingredients that upon combining form a lethal substance (as a gas)

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More from Merriam-Webster on binary

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for binary

Spanish Central: Translation of binary

Nglish: Translation of binary for Spanish Speakers

Comments on binary

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to enclose within walls

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