cardinal

noun
car·​di·​nal | \ ˈkärd-nəl How to pronounce cardinal (audio) , ˈkär-də-\
plural cardinals

Definition of cardinal

 (Entry 1 of 2)

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
3a [ 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

cardinal

adjective

Definition of cardinal (Entry 2 of 2)

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

Illustration of cardinal

Illustration of cardinal

Noun

cardinal 3

In the meaning defined above

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Other Words from cardinal

Noun

cardinalship \ ˈkärd-​nəl-​ˌship How to pronounce cardinalship (audio) , ˈkär-​də-​ \ noun

Adjective

cardinally adverb

Choose the Right Synonym for cardinal

Adjective

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

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.

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Heads rolling on cobblestones, the robes of kings and cardinals, Matisse's The Red Studio, the red in the tricolor flag of Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix. David Coggins, Town & Country, "Author and Illustrator David Coggins Takes Us Through Paris in His Story, 1999," 10 Dec. 2015 In fact a number of the cardinals from Brazil and bishops are friends of Pope Francis. Bradley J. Fikes, sandiegouniontribune.com, "Face to face with Pope Francis on Huntington's disease," 7 June 2017 One small clearing is dotted with several boulders where children could sit and watch for goldfinches and cardinals at three bird feeders. Jim Barnes, Washington Post, "Loudoun’s Hill School Arboretum included in Archives of American Gardens," 8 May 2017 There are deer in the woods, large-mouth bass in the water and cardinals in the air. Jeanne Houck, Cincinnati.com, "Donors buy Grand Valley park rangers a new home," 28 Apr. 2017 A year later, Pope John Paul II made Pell a cardinal. Andrew Sullivan, Daily Intelligencer, "Cardinal Pell and the Vatican’s Day of Reckoning," 30 June 2017 A cardinal in charge of the Vatican's finances has been charged with multiple sexual offenses by Australian police, in one of the most significant indictments against a top-ranking leader of the Catholic Church. Julie Zauzmer, Alaska Dispatch News, "Top-ranking Vatican cardinal charged with sex offenses in Australia," 29 June 2017 His January 20 inauguration ceremony featured an unprecedented six speakers, including a rabbi and a cardinal. Adam Chandler, The Atlantic, "Trump Goes With God—and the Gamble Mostly Pays Off," 25 May 2017 The main Italian in the cast is Silvio Orlando as a beleaguered, mole-flecked cardinal tasked with advising this cocky young Pope, and thwarted at nearly every turn. Richard Lawson, VanityFair.com, "For a Troubled Nation, The Young Pope Hits Too Close for Comfort," 13 Jan. 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Thankfully, Dobrev practices the cardinal beauty rule of removing her makeup each night. Nicole Saunders, Harper's BAZAAR, "Watch Nina Dobrev's Nighttime Skincare Routine," 9 Apr. 2019 One thing is clear—the Queen has already mastered Instagram’s cardinal rule: be dressed for success, no matter the update. Janelle Okwodu, Vogue, "The Queen Makes Her First Instagram Post in a Millennial Power Color," 7 Mar. 2019 Francis’ nine cardinal advisers issued the statement at the start of three days of meetings to hand in the fruit of their five years of work: a proposal to reform the Vatican bureaucracy. Nicole Winfield, The Seattle Times, "Vatican promises ‘clarifications’ to pope cover-up claims," 10 Sep. 2018 While the Catholic Church labeled envy, pride and avarice cardinal sins, for Mandeville these vices had public benefits. Stephen Miller, WSJ, "Economic Liberty Turns Vice Into Virtue," 14 Nov. 2018 Sony’s third-generation 1000Xs are, once again, the cardinal example of this. Vlad Savov, The Verge, "Wireless headphones are improving faster than anything else in tech," 31 Aug. 2018 One of the cardinal rules of investing is diversification. Chuck Jaffe, WSJ, "A DIY Stock-Investing Pioneer Says DRIPs Still Have a Place," 4 Nov. 2018 In a handy coincidence for travelers, the four sides are aligned with the four cardinal directions. Ken Jennings, Condé Nast Traveler, "Part of the Alps' Matterhorn Is in Africa," 23 July 2018 How to Mulch There are two cardinal rules for using mulch to combat weeds. The Editors, Good Housekeeping, "How to Mulch Your Garden and Stop Weeds in Their Tracks," 26 June 2018

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

Noun

12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for cardinal

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

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Time Traveler for cardinal

The first known use of cardinal was in the 12th century

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More Definitions for cardinal

cardinal

noun

English Language Learners Definition of cardinal

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a priest of the Roman Catholic Church who ranks immediately below the Pope
: a common North American bird

cardinal

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of cardinal (Entry 2 of 2)

formal : basic or most important

cardinal

noun
car·​di·​nal | \ ˈkärd-nəl How to pronounce cardinal (audio) , ˈkär-də-\

Kids Definition of cardinal

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a high official of the Roman Catholic Church ranking next below the pope
2 : a bright red songbird with a crest and a whistling call

cardinal

adjective

Kids Definition of cardinal (Entry 2 of 2)

: of first importance : main, principal Arnold Jones had apparently forgotten one of the cardinal rules of survival …— Jerry Spinelli, Maniac Magee

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