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.

Example Sentences

… 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 Welcome to Chippendales indulges perhaps too much explanation of the ‘80s post-women’s liberation movement context. Paul Schrodt, Men's Health, 23 Nov. 2022 Consequently, broad national averages void of context policy and local contexts camouflage the very real progress that’s occurring across the country. Time, 23 Nov. 2022 Ólafsson is a gifted pianist, but his other primary instrument is context. Michael Andor Brodeur, Washington Post, 21 Nov. 2022 Sure, Ohio State-Michigan is always going to be a massive game in any context. Dan Wolken, USA TODAY, 21 Nov. 2022 Wagner fears that, in this increasingly confrontational context, basic rights such as freedom of expression and assembly are coming under ever greater pressure. Stephen Castle,, 20 Nov. 2022 Nevertheless, there remains a stubborn context in which women are not independent: pregnancy. Madeleine Kearns, National Review, 20 Nov. 2022 Without a concrete reference image or a single context clue, every bit of progress is tentative. Louryn Strampe, WIRED, 19 Nov. 2022 In this openly commercial context, in which corporate newsletters passed themselves off as legitimate periodicals, a strange value emerged: authenticity. John Semley, The New Republic, 18 Nov. 2022 See More

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.

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 8 Dec. 2022.

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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