cal·​cu·​lus | \ ˈkal-kyə-ləs \
plural calculi\ ˈkal-​kyə-​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
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

In the case of Dengvaxia, the calculus is not as clear cut. Helen Branswell, STAT, "The vaccine dilemma: How experts weigh benefits for many against risks for a few," 23 Apr. 2018 The coming age of retail augmentation Walmart’s VR push represents how the traditional calculus around retail employees has changed, according to Gartner’s Hetu. Patrick Sisson, Vox, "In Walmart’s virtual reality simulation, Black Friday never ends," 15 Nov. 2018 Now, decades later, with few Spaniards defending him outright, the political calculus has changed. Jeannette Neumann, WSJ, "Spain’s Plan to Exhume Franco Unearths Divisions," 6 Sep. 2018 The easiest way for that competitive calculus to change is for publishers to start refusing to release their cross-platform online games on the PS4, as Bethesda is doing here. Kyle Orland, Ars Technica, "Bethesda pressures Sony with “non-negotiable” cross-platform demand," 13 Aug. 2018 That calculus could change if a trade war starts doing major damage to the financial system, such as by causing steep losses in stock and bond markets or by causing financial stress for banks. Neil Irwin, New York Times, "There Isn’t Much the Fed Can Do to Ease the Pain of a Trade War," 5 July 2018 Once James starts to slip, the calculus for L.A. to build a title team could change dramatically. Rohan Nadkarni,, "The Case For LeBron to Back Out of His Deal With the Lakers," 3 July 2018 This is all about pure political calculus and power. Fox News, "Daines slams Dems' 'desperation tactics' against Kavanaugh," 24 Sep. 2018 The algorithm is called backpropagation because error gradients from later layers in a network are propagated backwards and used (along with the chain rule from calculus) to calculate gradients in earlier layers. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "How computers got shockingly good at recognizing images," 18 Dec. 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

10 Feb 2019

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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