con·​text | \ ˈkän-ˌtekst How to pronounce context (audio) \

Definition of context

1 : the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning
2 : the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : environment, setting the historical context of the war

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Other Words from context

contextless \ ˈkän-​ˌtekst-​ləs How to pronounce contextless (audio) \ adjective
contextual \ kän-​ˈteks-​chə-​wəl How to pronounce contextual (audio) , kən-​ , -​chəl , -​chü-​əl \ adjective
contextually adverb

Context, in Context

In its earliest uses (documented in the 15th century), context meant "the weaving together of words in language." This sense, now obsolete, developed logically from the word's source in Latin, contexere "to weave or join together." Context now most commonly refers to the environment or setting in which something (whether words or events) exists. When we say that something is contextualized, we mean that it is placed in an appropriate setting, one in which it may be properly considered.

Examples of context in a Sentence

… it was Dickens who first used the word 'detective' in a literary context — John Mullan, How Novels Work, 2006 Entrepreneurship and civil freedoms depend on a context of civil order, predictability, and individual security. — Susan L. Woodward, Balkan Tragedy, 1995 … the old building, its original acre, inside its high outer wall, was immune to change, out of context and out of time. — Harriet Doerr, The Tiger in the Grass, 1995 We need to look at the event within the larger context of world history. The book puts these events in their proper historical and social contexts. We need to consider these events in context.
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Recent Examples on the Web Lawyers, for instance, might indulge in grandstanding while justices, who often pose devil's advocate–style questions, might be more reticent to speak for fear a video clip would be used out of context. Jeff John Roberts, Fortune, "The Supreme Court has shunned technology: Could coronavirus change that?," 22 Mar. 2020 Heise’s mode of filmmaking takes getting used to, and his omission of context leaves certain connections obscure, especially in the scattered final hour. Ben Kenigsberg, New York Times, "‘Heimat Is a Space in Time’ Review: All History Is Personal," 12 Mar. 2020 The opponents frequently argue that their words were taken out of context. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "Facebook slaps “partly false” label on Trump-endorsed video of Biden," 9 Mar. 2020 The past occasionally intrudes via archival video and photographs, almost all shot by the couple themselves, and presented without much in the way of context. Keith Uhlich, The Hollywood Reporter, "'So Late So Soon': Film Review," 6 Mar. 2020 In the absence of context, the line between wild news story and snarky meme can be exceedingly fine. Emma Grey Ellis, Wired, "Is It OK to Make Coronavirus Memes and Jokes?," 5 Mar. 2020 The complaint about the Serbian quote was taken out of context, and was a conversational interaction during the meeting with one employee, Hoke says. Alex Demarban, Anchorage Daily News, "Alaska federal agency’s co-chairman accused by female employees of harassment and discrimination," 5 Mar. 2020 The quip -- which Cuccinelli later argued was twisted out of context -- drew attention to a policy that previously had drawn praise from immigration hardliners and sharp criticism from advocates, but not much attention from the general public. Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN, "This is a big week for the wall Trump is building. But it has nothing to do with the border," 24 Feb. 2020 Comments by Tilson Thomas at the outset offered a bit of context. Zachary Lewis, cleveland, "Cleveland Orchestra, Tilson Thomas beguile listeners with new ‘Meditations on Rilke’," 21 Feb. 2020

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

circa 1568, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for context

Middle English contexte "text, composition," borrowed from Medieval Latin contextus "sequence, connection, setting," going back to Latin, "action of weaving, connection, coherence, ordered scheme, structure," from contexere "to weave together, connect (words), compose, combine" (from con- con- + texere "to weave, construct") + -tus, suffix of action nouns — more at technical entry 1

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Time Traveler for context

Time Traveler

The first known use of context was circa 1568

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Statistics for context

Last Updated

25 Mar 2020

Cite this Entry

“Context.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Apr. 2020.

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More Definitions for context


How to pronounce context (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of context

: the words that are used with a certain word or phrase and that help to explain its meaning
: the situation in which something happens : the group of conditions that exist where and when something happens


con·​text | \ ˈkän-ˌtekst How to pronounce context (audio) \

Kids Definition of context

1 : the words that are used with a certain word in writing or speaking Without the context, I don't know what he meant by the word “odd.”
2 : the situation in which something happens The book considers her actions in their historical context.

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More from Merriam-Webster on context

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for context

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with context

Spanish Central: Translation of context

Nglish: Translation of context for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of context for Arabic Speakers

Comments on context

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