cal·cu·lus | \ -ləs \
plural calculi\-ˌlī, -ˌlē \ also calculuses

Definition of calculus 

1a : a method of computation or calculation in a special notation (as of logic or symbolic logic)

b : the mathematical methods comprising differential and integral calculus often used with the

2 : calculation … even political conservatives agree that an economic calculus must give way to a strategic consciousness when national or global security is at stake. —Stephen H. Schneider

3a : a concretion usually of mineral salts around organic material found especially in hollow organs or ducts

b : tartar entry 1 sense 1

4 : a system or arrangement of intricate or interrelated parts

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Did You Know?

In Latin calculus meant “pebble.” Because the Romans used pebbles to do addition and subtraction on a counting board, the word became associated with computation. Other English derivatives include calculator and calculation. Calculus itself has been borrowed into English as a medical term that refers to masses of matter in the body such as kidney stones (a straightforward extension of the meaning “pebble”) and to refer to a system of mathematical computation.

Examples of calculus in a Sentence

by my calculus the more efficient air conditioner will have paid for itself within a span of five years

Recent Examples on the Web

There have been some changes in the circumstances surrounding the war, but nothing to alter its basic calculus. David L. Stern, Washington Post, "War in eastern Ukraine now seems a distant storm to Kiev," 26 June 2018 Every situation, in other words, has its own financial and ethical calculus. Lily Hay Newman, WIRED, "Atlanta Spent $2.6M to Recover From $52,000 Ransomware Scare," 23 Apr. 2018 DeVos championed school choice for years in her home state, and public schools there are now doing worse, but that has not impacted her calculus at all. Jack Holmes, Esquire, "How Betsy DeVos Faceplanted on 60 Minutes," 12 Mar. 2018 The highlight of my high school experience was winning my school’s calculus excellence award. Heidi Finley, charlotteobserver, "Charlotte Observer Seniors of the Year 2018 | Charlotte Observer," 24 May 2018 But if that worker is part of a class of 1,000 people, the calculus changes. Stephanie Russell-kraft, The New Republic, "The Supreme Court’s War Against Workers," 21 May 2018 In one calculus class, students work in groups of four. Catherine Rentz,, "'Agents of change:' A year with the UMBC program shaping some of the nation's best and most diverse scientists," 18 May 2018 These people have a totally different incentive structure and risk/reward calculus than ATP and WTA stalwarts). Jon Wertheim,, "Mailbag: Adding Some Much-Needed Context to the Report On Corruption Within Tennis," 2 May 2018 As diseases fade, the vaccine calculus changes In some cases, these decisions aren’t that difficult. Helen Branswell, STAT, "The vaccine dilemma: How experts weigh benefits for many against risks for a few," 23 Apr. 2018

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

1666, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for calculus

Latin, stone (used in reckoning)

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Statistics for calculus

Last Updated

8 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for calculus

The first known use of calculus was in 1666

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More Definitions for calculus



English Language Learners Definition of calculus

: an advanced branch of mathematics that deals mostly with rates of change and with finding lengths, areas, and volumes


cal·cu·lus | \ ˈkal-kyə-ləs \

Kids Definition of calculus

: a branch of mathematics that deals mostly with rates of change and with finding lengths, areas, and volumes


cal·cu·lus | \ -ləs \
plural calculi\-ˌlī, -ˌlē \ also calculuses

Medical Definition of calculus 

1 : a concretion usually of mineral salts around organic material found especially in hollow organs or ducts

2 : a concretion on teeth : tartar

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