noun, often attributive
cot·​ton | \ ˈkä-tᵊn How to pronounce cotton (audio) \

Definition of cotton

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : a soft usually white fibrous substance composed of the hairs surrounding the seeds of various erect freely branching tropical plants (genus Gossypium) of the mallow family
b : a plant producing cotton especially : one grown for its cotton
c : a crop of cotton
2a : fabric made of cotton
b : yarn spun from cotton
3 : a downy cottony substance produced by various plants (such as the cottonwood)


cottoned; cottoning\ ˈkät-​niŋ How to pronounce cotton (audio) , ˈkä-​tᵊn-​iŋ \

Definition of cotton (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

1 : to take a liking used with to cottons to people easily
2 : to come to understand used with to or on to cottoned on to the fact that our children work furiously— H. M. McLuhan

Illustration of cotton

Illustration of cotton


cotton: 1 flowering branch; 2 fruit, unopened; 3 fruit, partly opened

In the meaning defined above

Did you know?

The noun cotton first appears in English in the late Middle Ages. It comes, via Anglo-French and Old Italian, from the Arabic word for cotton, quṭun or quṭn. In the 15th century, cotton acquired a verb use meaning "to form a nap on (cloth)." Though this verb sense is now obsolete, our modern-day use might have spun from it. In 1822, English philologist Robert Nares reported that cotton had been used to mean "to succeed" and speculated that this use came from "the finishing of cloth, which when it cottons, or rises to a regular nap, is nearly or quite complete." The meaning of cotton shifted from "to get on well" to "to get on well together," and eventually to the sense we know today, "to take a liking to." The "understand" sense appeared later, in the early 20th century.

Examples of cotton in a Sentence

Noun They are in the field picking cotton. She doesn't wear cotton in the winter.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The cotton as a natural fiber is strong yet soft, breathable, and insulating for warmth. Kristen Philipkoski, Forbes, 1 May 2022 These stylish, slightly flared yoga pants are made from a durable cotton fabric blend that offers light compression for a super flattering fit. Hillary Maglin, Travel + Leisure, 19 Apr. 2022 The cotton-blend tweed fabric was a classic throwback by Mango with a modern twist. ELLE, 10 Apr. 2022 On offer are four cotton-blend, hooded sweatshirts, designed in the quintessential Gap aesthetic. Shelby Ying Hyde, Harper's BAZAAR, 30 Mar. 2022 The Madewell Sweatpant Jeans are made of a super soft cotton-blend fabric and feature an elastic waistband for a comfortable fit. Claire Harmeyer,, 17 Mar. 2022 Most of the athletic apparel in larger sizes was cotton-blend, shapeless, and just not functional for higher-intensity activity or running longer distances. Mirna Valerio, SELF, 11 Jan. 2022 Arch support and grippy bottoms make these lightweight cotton-blend socks incredibly comfortable and effective on slick studio floors. Tess Garcia,, 15 Oct. 2021 Our creative space will be au courant with this all-natural, cotton rope weaving hanging above the desk. cleveland, 28 Apr. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb And regulators cotton on to certain tactics and try to crack down, well, the drug companies find another avenue. al, 18 Jan. 2022 Induction electric stoves seem to be finally making serious inroads in the American market after many years of slow uptake, as people cotton on to the danger of gas and the nifty properties of induction. Ryan Cooper, The Week, 14 Sep. 2021 Maybe voters didn’t cotton to her valentine to the ’80s, which is a shame. Melissa Ruggieri, USA TODAY, 23 Nov. 2021 Hopefully, moderates will cotton on to these new political realities and join a unified Democratic team. Michael Tomasky, The New Republic, 13 Sep. 2021 Young women were among the first to cotton on to TikTok’s appeal. Rachel Monroe, The Atlantic, 20 Nov. 2020 Over the past 15 years, the public has cottoned on. The Economist, 30 May 2020 The animals don't cotton to coyotes but are docile and shy toward people and Kias. Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press, 17 Feb. 2020 Conscious consumers have cottoned onto this, and are now looking for products formulated with zero, or very little, water or those that can be used without (or with less) water., 6 Feb. 2020 See More

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

First Known Use of cotton


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1605, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for cotton


Middle English coton, from Anglo-French cotun, from Old Italian cotone, from Arabic quṭun, quṭn

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The first known use of cotton was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

13 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Cotton.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for cotton


cot·​ton | \ ˈkä-tᵊn How to pronounce cotton (audio) \

Kids Definition of cotton

1 : a soft fluffy usually white material made up of twisted hairs that surrounds the seeds of a tall plant of warm regions and is spun into thread or yarn
2 : thread, yarn, or cloth made from cotton

Other Words from cotton

cotton adjective


noun, often attributive
cot·​ton | \ ˈkät-ᵊn How to pronounce cotton (audio) \

Medical Definition of cotton

1 : a soft usually white fibrous substance composed of the hairs surrounding the seeds of various erect freely branching tropical plants (genus Gossypium) of the mallow family and used extensively in making threads, yarns, and fabrics (as in surgical dressings)
2 : a plant producing cotton especially : one grown for its cotton

Cotton biographical name (1)

Cot·​ton | \ ˈkä-tᵊn How to pronounce Cotton (audio) \

Definition of Cotton

 (Entry 1 of 2)

Charles 1630–1687 English author and translator


biographical name (2)

Definition of Cotton (Entry 2 of 2)

John 1585–1652 American (English-born) Puritan clergyman

More from Merriam-Webster on cotton

Nglish: Translation of cotton for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of cotton for Arabic Speakers


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