con·​tin·​gen·​cy | \kən-ˈtin-jən(t)-sē \
plural contingencies

Definition of contingency 

1 : a contingent event or condition: such as

a : an event (such as an emergency) that may but is not certain to occur trying to provide for every contingency

b : something liable to happen as an adjunct to or result of something else the contingencies of war

2 : the quality or state of being contingent

Keep scrolling for more

Choose the Right Synonym for contingency

juncture, exigency, emergency, contingency, pinch, strait (or straits) crisis mean a critical or crucial time or state of affairs. juncture stresses the significant concurrence or convergence of events. an important juncture in our country's history exigency stresses the pressure of restrictions or urgency of demands created by a special situation. provide for exigencies emergency applies to a sudden unforeseen situation requiring prompt action to avoid disaster. the presence of mind needed to deal with emergencies contingency implies an emergency or exigency that is regarded as possible but uncertain of occurrence. contingency plans pinch implies urgency or pressure for action to a less intense degree than exigency or emergency. come through in a pinch strait, now commonly straits, applies to a troublesome situation from which escape is extremely difficult. in dire straits crisis applies to a juncture whose outcome will make a decisive difference. a crisis of confidence

Examples of contingency in a Sentence

Nothing was overlooked. There was a fallback position, a fail-safe provision, for any contingency. — Gary Wills, New York Times Review of Books, 1 Apr. 2001 It is difficult to distinguish all the legitimate and illegitimate kinds and uses of information. Writing laws to regulate all contingencies is like trying to capture broth in a colander. — George F. Will, Newsweek, 2 Mar. 1987 Was it merely the expression of her displeasure at Miss Bart's neglect, or had disquieting rumours reached her? The latter contingency seemed improbable, yet Lily was not without a sense of uneasiness. — Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, 1905 In making our business plans, we tried to prepare for any contingency that might hurt sales. agencies trying to provide for every contingency in a national emergency
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Routine business in Parliament will be paused and replaced by a slew of legislation to ensure that government can act on contingency plans. Max Colchester, WSJ, "In the U.K., Endless Brexit Squabbles Are Snarling Everything Else," 5 Nov. 2018 In the meantime, the Trump administration already has contingency plans in place to compel Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program should talks continue to stall. Alex Ward, Vox, "Trump just canceled Pompeo’s big trip to North Korea. That’s a really bad sign.," 24 Aug. 2018 Hopefully the folks at London Gatwick are now hard at work making a contingency plan for if the fiber goes down again. Eric Limer, Popular Mechanics, "Technical Difficulties Send Airport Running for the Whiteboards," 20 Aug. 2018 The building’s price tag already has jumped to $650 million from $600 million to provide for contingency costs associated with some of these factors. Deborah Vankin,, "At LACMA, new urgency to finish raising $650 million for the new museum building," 3 July 2018 By having a home inspection contingency in your contract, this protects you as the buyer to renegotiate your offer based on the findings in the inspection report. Dottie Herman, Time, "Everything You Need to Know About Buying Your First Home," 3 July 2018 He was also awarded a $2,500 contingency bonus that will not count against the Royals' MLB-best spending pool of $12,781,900 million. Maria Torres, kansascity, "With a few days left to sign top draft picks, Royals ink pitcher Jackson Kowar," 2 July 2018 Baylson’s ruling is a reminder that Shakespeare’s texts are open books, still, tied not only to their historical context, but also to the contingencies of the present. Walt Hunter, The Atlantic, "When Hamlet Starts Showing Up in Federal Court," 13 June 2018 To get food into the city, say, or repair disabled subway lines, emergency officials might draw on contingencies outlined in the event of another Hurricane Sandy. Daily Intelligencer, "This Is What a Nuclear Bomb Looks Like," 12 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'contingency.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of contingency

1561, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for contingency

see contingent entry 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about contingency

Share contingency

Statistics for contingency

Last Updated

21 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for contingency

The first known use of contingency was in 1561

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for contingency



English Language Learners Definition of contingency

: something (such as an emergency) that might happen


con·​tin·​gen·​cy | \kən-ˈtin-jən-sē \
plural contingencies

Legal Definition of contingency 

1 : the quality or state of being contingent

2 : a contingent event or condition: as

a : an event that may but is not certain to occur a contingency that made performance under the contract impossible

b : something likely to come about as an adjunct to or result of something else specifically : contingency fee at fee 2 whether a case is on a contingency or billed at an hourly rate — D. R. Frederico

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on contingency

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


to make faulty or ineffective

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Dictionary Devil

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


Love words? Need even more definitions?

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