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

But many, weary of a storm that’s lingered on and on, did their own rough calculus of the odds and decided to stay. Claire Galofaro, The Seattle Times, "North Carolina residents consider fleeing as rivers rise," 17 Sep. 2018 Elsewhere, as Bird expands across the country — working with Uber’s former external policy shop, Tusk Ventures — part of its calculus includes the risks of regulatory blowback. Johana Bhuiyan, Recode, "The bare-knuckle tactics Uber used to get its way with regulators are not going to work for scooter startups," 30 Aug. 2018 Computers can zoom through activities humans find difficult, such as playing chess, doing calculus or repeating a set of movements precisely over time. William Wilkes, WSJ, "How the World’s Biggest Companies Are Fine-Tuning the Robot Revolution," 14 May 2018 As for the Souza trade, the calculus might end up being similar. Nick Piecoro, azcentral, "Diamondbacks balancing now and later in prospect deals," 8 May 2018 Twitter's Vice President for Trust and Safety Del Harvey said in an interview this week the company is changing the calculus between promoting public discourse and preserving safety. Craig Timberg And Elizabeth Dwoskin,, "Twitter is sweeping out fake accounts like never before, putting user growth at risk," 7 July 2018 Moon Chung-in, an adviser to the South Korean president, said negotiations with the North may change the calculus. Margaret Hartmann, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Looks at Pulling U.S. Troops From South Korea, Despite Peace Talks: Report," 4 May 2018 Now, with Mueller’s latest filing, the calculus has changed—for Manafort, the special counsel, and for Trump. Abigail Tracy, The Hive, "The Odds That Robert Mueller Breaks Paul Manafort Just Went Up," 5 June 2018 In the following years, Laude’s approach was replicated in biology and calculus courses, and earlier this decade, Laude was promoted to work with a team at UT-Austin to improve the graduation rate for the entire campus. Jeffrey J. Selingo, Washington Post, "Why do so many students drop out of college? And what can be done about it?," 8 June 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

17 Nov 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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