cardinal

1 of 2

noun

car·​di·​nal ˈkärd-nəl How to pronounce cardinal (audio)
ˈkär-də-
plural cardinals
1
: a high ecclesiastical official of the Roman Catholic Church who ranks next below the pope and is appointed by him to assist him as a member of the college of cardinals (see college sense 4)
2
: cardinal number
usually used in plural
3
a
[from its color, resembling that of the cardinal's robes] : a crested finch (Cardinalis cardinalis of the family Cardinalidae) of the eastern U.S. and adjacent Canada, the southwestern U.S., and Mexico to Belize which has a black face and heavy red bill in both sexes and is nearly completely red in the male
b
: any of several red-headed passerine birds (genus Paroaria of the family Thraupidae) of South America and the West Indies that are grayish to blackish above with white underparts
cardinalship
ˈkärd-nəl-ˌship How to pronounce cardinal (audio)
ˈkär-də-
noun

Illustration of cardinal

Illustration of cardinal
  • cardinal 3

cardinal

2 of 2

adjective

1
: of basic importance
a cardinal principle
2
: very serious or grave
a cardinal sin
cardinally adverb

Did you know?

Our word cardinal goes back to the Latin adjective cardinalis, which meant “serving as a hinge.” The root of this word is the noun cardo, meaning “hinge.” Since a hinge is the device on which a door turns, cardo came to mean “something on which a development turns” or “something very important.” Later the Roman Catholic Church used the adjective cardinalis to refer to principal churches and priests and then to mean “a clergyman of the highest rank, next to the pope.” When borrowed into English, cardinalis became cardinal. A cardinal's robes are a deep red color, and this color influenced the naming of the bird whose color was like that of a cardinal's robes.

Choose the Right Synonym for cardinal

essential, fundamental, vital, cardinal mean so important as to be indispensable.

essential implies belonging to the very nature of a thing and therefore being incapable of removal without destroying the thing itself or its character.

conflict is essential in drama

fundamental applies to something that is a foundation without which an entire system or complex whole would collapse.

fundamental principles of algebra

vital suggests something that is necessary to a thing's continued existence or operation.

cut off from vital supplies

cardinal suggests something on which an outcome turns or depends.

a cardinal rule in buying a home

Examples of cardinal in a Sentence

Noun The Pope appointed two new cardinals this year. Adjective the cardinal principles of news reporting My cardinal rule is to always be honest.
Recent Examples on the Web
Noun
Related article Former Australian PM hails George Pell as a ‘saint’ as funeral of controversial cardinal sparks protests Pell was found guilty, but his conviction was later overturned on appeal by Australia’s High Court. Hilary Whiteman, CNN, 21 Feb. 2024 The church has softened its tone on those issues in recent years, and New York’s current cardinal, Timothy Dolan, has said the church should be more welcoming of gay people. Liam Stack, New York Times, 16 Feb. 2024 With this pop-up card, your sweetheart will get to a surprise paper basket full of cardinals and cherry blossoms. Moriah Mason, Southern Living, 1 Feb. 2024 The species that most commonly exhibit this are northern mockingbirds, northern cardinals, eastern towhees, and eastern bluebirds. Taylor Piephoff, Charlotte Observer, 31 Jan. 2024 The cardinal said he was heartened to see a growing, thriving community. Jesse Wright, Chicago Tribune, 28 Jan. 2024 Last month, a Vatican court issued other harsh sentences, including of a high-ranking cardinal, in a corruption probe. Stefano Pitrelli, Washington Post, 23 Jan. 2024 There are 12 zodiac signs, categorized by four elements (earth, fire, water and air) and divided into three different modalities (cardinal, fixed and mutable). Katie Mannion, Peoplemag, 12 Jan. 2024 The document from the Vatican's doctrine office elaborates on a letter Francis sent to two conservative cardinals that was published in October. Compiled By Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports, arkansasonline.com, 19 Dec. 2023
Adjective
Liu An also tells of a fifth cardinal direction, the center of the world, represented by the Yellow Dragon. Catherine Duncan, Smithsonian Magazine, 9 Feb. 2024 The rest of the crowd pivoted left on command to recognize each cardinal direction in turn. The Arizona Republic, 31 Jan. 2024 The Las Vegas native began the special teams highlight by slowing to a near stop while surveying the coverage, then accelerating into a cardinal and gold blur straight up the field. Houston Mitchell, Los Angeles Times, 30 Aug. 2023 Yet today the cardinal law of diplomacy would say MBS has potential leverage over Russia. Nic Robertson, CNN, 4 Aug. 2023 Aries Aries, a cardinal fire sign, has a lot in common with Capricorn. Katie Mannion, Peoplemag, 12 Jan. 2024 In standing his ground Monday during an end-of-season press conference, Belichick broke a cardinal rule of his own media playbook. Andrew Callahan, Hartford Courant, 8 Jan. 2024 This is a tricky shot because the azimuth (cardinal direction) of the sunrise changes every day, and getting the right alignment between the two mountains and our much more distant star on the horizon took exacting timing. Phil Plait, Scientific American, 29 Dec. 2023 Eighty-three of the 132 cardinal leaders that would be tasked with electing the next pope were appointed by Pope Francis. William Skipworth, Forbes, 28 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cardinal.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Noun

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin cardinalis, from Late Latin cardinalis, adjective — see cardinal entry 2

Adjective

Middle English, from Late Latin cardinalis, from Latin, serving as a hinge, from cardin-, cardo hinge

First Known Use

Noun

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of cardinal was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near cardinal

Cite this Entry

“Cardinal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cardinal. Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition

cardinal

1 of 2 noun
car·​di·​nal ˈkärd-nəl How to pronounce cardinal (audio)
-ᵊn-əl
1
: a high official of the Roman Catholic Church ranking next below the pope
2
3
: a North American finch of which the male is bright red with a black face and a pointed bunch of feathers on its head

cardinal

2 of 2 adjective
1
: chief entry 1 sense 2, primary
a cardinal rule
2
: very serious
a cardinal sin
Etymology

Noun

Middle English cardinal "high church official," from Latin cardinalis (same meaning), from cardinalis (adjective) "principal, most important, of a hinge," from cardo "hinge"

Word Origin
Our word cardinal can be traced back to the Latin adjective cardinalis, which at first meant "serving as a hinge." The root of this word is the noun cardo, meaning "hinge." Since a hinge is the device on which a door turns, the noun cardo also came to be used for "something on which a development turns or depends," or in other words, "something very important." Following this, the adjective took on the meaning "very important, chief, principal." Later the Roman Catholic Church applied this adjective in referring to principal churches and priests. By the late Middle Ages cardinalis had come to be used for "a clergyman of the highest rank, next to the pope." When borrowed into English, cardinalis became cardinal. Then other senses of the word developed. A cardinal's robes are a deep red color, and this color influenced the naming of a type of bird whose color was like that of a cardinal's robes.

More from Merriam-Webster on cardinal

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