con·​text ˈkän-ˌtekst How to pronounce context (audio)
: the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning
: the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : environment, setting
the historical context of the war
contextless adjective
kän-ˈteks-chə-wəl How to pronounce context (audio)
contextually adverb

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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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web Musk’s move to cut article headlines has changed the way many users share articles on X, because those have lacked context unless the headline is included in the text of the post (or the headline is included in the image shared with the article). Todd Spangler, Variety, 23 Nov. 2023 The national American holiday of Thanksgiving emerged more than 200 years after any of those claims, during the entirely different historical context of the Civil War. Alex Seitz-Wald, NBC News, 23 Nov. 2023 Nesrin saw an opening in Los Angeles’ Westside, where there’s lots of enthusiasm for vegetable-forward eating but often without strong cultural context. Meghan McCarron, Los Angeles Times, 22 Nov. 2023 An irregular lineup of five orbs, with a sixth in front, absent any background or context and rendered only in tones of gray, the piece, approximately a foot square, exemplifies the kind of stark simplicity and attunement to nature that Americans found so bracing in Zen. Will Heinrich, New York Times, 21 Nov. 2023 Here, that meant viewing the rooms not just as separate entities but within the context of the others. Grace McCloud, Vogue, 21 Nov. 2023 For context, Microsoft has invested $13 billion in OpenAI, which meant Nadella was motivated to safeguard his company’s partnership with Altman, the face of OpenAI, following Friday’s surprising events. Lila MacLellan, Fortune, 21 Nov. 2023 One potential criticism of this work is how much these findings might apply beyond the context of university lectures. IEEE Spectrum, 21 Nov. 2023 Their straightforward aesthetic works well in a variety of contexts: strong forms in materials such as steel, wood and concrete, each project tailored to a neighborhood’s proportions, textures and scale, whether in City Heights, Tijuana or South Park. Dirk Sutro, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Nov. 2023 See More

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

Word History


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

First Known Use

circa 1568, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of context was circa 1568

Dictionary Entries Near context

Cite this Entry

“Context.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


con·​text ˈkän-ˌtekst How to pronounce context (audio)
: the parts of something written or spoken that are near a certain word or group of words and that help to explain its meaning
contextual adjective

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