cal·​cu·​lus | \ ˈkal-kyə-ləs How to pronounce calculus (audio) \
plural calculi\ ˈkal-​kyə-​ˌlī How to pronounce calculi (audio) , -​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 The elevator ride, a previously unremarkable 90 or so seconds, has become a daunting puzzler in the calculus of how to bring people back to work safely after the coronavirus pandemic kept them home for months. Matt Richtel,, "Going up? Not so fast: Strict new rules to govern elevator culture," 27 June 2020 As the co-owners plot the weeks and months ahead, they’re confronted with a tricky calculus: how to make a business kept afloat, in part, by social activism sustainable in the long-term — during a pandemic and a recession, no less. Deena Shanker,, "Black Businesses Need More Than Retail Activism to Survive," 27 June 2020 This calculus helps explain why the national unemployment rate has fallen from 14.7% in April to 13.3% in May, pointing to an economy moving from contraction to modest recovery. Lance Lambert, Fortune, "The unemployment rate has fallen in these 35 states," 22 June 2020 Oregon’s jobless rate was at a historic low of around 3.3% in the months before the pandemic hit, but the calculus may be different with the state headed into a steep recession that economists say will take years to recover from. oregonlive, "Oregon Insight: Minimum wage rises again on July 1," 21 June 2020 That perhaps cynical financial calculus has benefitted countless newbie PC gamers, curious to check out what all the fuss over Overwatch or Fortnite was about. Cecilia D'anastasio, Wired, "Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a Gaming PC," 3 June 2020 In this view of things, the April balloting in Wisconsin was yet another example of the kind of hyper-partisan calculus that now threatens the foundational definition of modern democracy—free and fair elections. Lee Drutman, The New Republic, "How Democracy Dies at the Ballot Box," 18 June 2020 Restaurants tend to be an emotional-calculus function of the owner’s personal identity fantasy. Michael Taylor,, "Liberty Bar owner in the age of coronavirus: ‘I feel like the tail struggling to wag the dog’," 12 June 2020 This calculus exposes the tension, felt around the world, between the desire to save the economy and prevent a resurgence of the virus. Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic, "The Costs of Europe’s Soon-to-Be-Lost Summer," 4 June 2020

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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Time Traveler for calculus

Time Traveler

The first known use of calculus was in 1666

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Statistics for calculus

Last Updated

3 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Calculus.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for calculus


How to pronounce calculus (audio)

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 How to pronounce calculus (audio) \

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 How to pronounce calculus (audio) \
plural calculi\ -​ˌlī, -​ˌlē How to pronounce calculi (audio) \ 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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