1

cardinal

noun car·di·nal \ ˈkärd-nəl , ˈkär-də- \
Updated on: 23 Nov 2017

Definition of cardinal

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 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

play \-ˌship\ noun

Examples of cardinal in a Sentence

  1. The Pope appointed two new cardinals this year.

Recent Examples of cardinal from the Web

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.

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.

Illustration of cardinal

Origin and Etymology of cardinal

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


2

cardinal

adjective

Definition of cardinal

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

cardinally

adverb

Examples of cardinal in a Sentence

  1. the cardinal principles of news reporting

  2. My cardinal rule is to always be honest.

Recent Examples of cardinal from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of cardinal

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

Synonym Discussion of 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


CARDINAL Defined for English Language Learners

cardinal

noun

Definition of cardinal for English Language Learners

  • : a priest of the Roman Catholic Church who ranks immediately below the Pope

  • : a common North American bird


cardinal

adjective

Definition of cardinal for English Language Learners

  • : basic or most important


CARDINAL Defined for Kids

1

cardinal

noun car·di·nal \ ˈkärd-nəl , ˈkär-də- \

Definition of cardinal for Students

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

2

cardinal

adjective

Definition of cardinal for Students

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


Seen and Heard

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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

WORD OF THE DAY

of, relating to, or being an oracle

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Intact Latin Quiz

  • roman-tablet
  • What did focus mean in Latin?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

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!