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.
Recent Examples on the Web A bit of context: Just before dawn on the seventeenth, dozens of students had fanned out across the east lawn to demand that the university curtail investments in companies with ties to Israel. Nina Berman, The New Yorker, 2 May 2024 It's meant to be the context of every scene and sentence of dialogue. Kelly Lawler, USA TODAY, 2 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for context 

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 18 May. 2024.

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
: the circumstances in which something exists or occurs
contextual adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on context

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