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

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from cardinal

Noun

cardinalship \ ˈkärd-​nəl-​ˌship How to pronounce cardinal (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.
See More
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 Brady also owned up to the cardinal sin of getting ahead of herself. New York Times, "Osaka and Brady, With Powerful Strokes and Zero Pretense, in Australian Open Final," 18 Feb. 2021 So much so that he was charged with sedition, the cardinal colonial sin. Tunku Varadarajan, WSJ, "‘The Irish Buddhist’ Review: Monk on a Mission," 27 Dec. 2020 The rare call for the political cardinal sin of sedition stems to their opposition of this week’s election-vote certification and subsequent storming of the Capitol by pro-Trump forces. Marc Bona, cleveland, "Sen. Sherrod Brown calls on Hawley, Cruz to resign or be expelled," 10 Jan. 2021 For all his faults and all the reasons for his firing, Herman’s cardinal sin was not winning enough. Chuck Carlton, Dallas News, "Steve Sarkisian watched the Longhorns’ last national title win from the opposing sideline. Now, he’s tasked with bringing Texas back.," 3 Jan. 2021 The year-round cabins, named using Ojibwe words for seasons and cardinal directions, will each accommodate six people with varying arrangements of double and single bunk beds. Star Tribune, "Minnesota briefs: Winona County Board approves plan for $19 million jail," 26 Dec. 2020 But this bright-red cardinal looks like he was plucked right out of a Christmas card. Chron, "Cute animals in the snow is exactly what we all need to see right now," 13 Dec. 2020 Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., officially became the first Black American to earn the rank of cardinal Saturday. Tim O'donnell, TheWeek, "10 things you need to know today: November 29, 2020," 29 Nov. 2020 Kevin Irwin, a professor at Catholic University of America, who has known the cardinal-designate since the two were studying liturgy as graduate students at the Pontifical University of Sant’Anselmo on the Aventine Hill of Rome in the 1970s. Los Angeles Times, "Archbishop Gregory stood up to Trump. Now he’s about to be the first Black cardinal in U.S.," 25 Nov. 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about cardinal

Time Traveler for cardinal

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for cardinal

Cite this Entry

“Cardinal.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cardinal. Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLA Chicago APA Merriam-Webster

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on cardinal

What made you want to look up cardinal? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Who Knew?

How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!