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

Definition of cotton

 (Entry 1 of 4)

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 4)

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


biographical name (1)
Cot·​ton | \ ˈkä-tᵊn How to pronounce Cotton (audio) \

Definition of Cotton (Entry 3 of 4)

Charles 1630–1687 English author and translator


biographical name (2)

Definition of Cotton (Entry 4 of 4)

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

Illustration of cotton

Illustration of cotton


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

In the meaning defined above

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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 Fletcher was a Civil War veteran who became one of the South's leading cotton brokers and bankers. Rex Nelson, Arkansas Online, "Saving a house," 3 Apr. 2021 Silk pillowcases are gentler on skin and hair than standard cotton, and claim to reduce both wrinkles and frizz. Julianne Ross, CNN Underscored, "20 Amazon products our readers couldn’t get enough of in March," 2 Apr. 2021 The pillow features an antimicrobial polyester fill on the inside and a cotton sateen cover on the outside. Ambar Pardilla, NBC News, "The best pillows of 2021: Buffy, Casper, Brooklinen and more," 1 Apr. 2021 Made using extra-long staple cotton yarns, our 600 thread count sheet set are the perfect combination of smoothness, breathability, and durability. Maren Estrada, BGR, "Here are 10 hidden Amazon deals only Prime members can get," 31 Mar. 2021 This means that cotton for our production will no longer be sourced from there. Jane Li, Quartz, "H&M’s latest statement on Xinjiang cotton is very careful not to mention Xinjiang," 31 Mar. 2021 Crafted from premium cotton terry—making each piece super soft and absorbent—the collection includes a beach towel, tote bag, and cushion. Madison Flager, Condé Nast Traveler, "Frette Launched a Beach Collection You’ll Want to Use All Summer Long," 31 Mar. 2021 With a slim silhouette and cotton material, Superga's Cortu sneakers are versatile enough to be worn with anything. Kelsey Mulvey, Marie Claire, "Kate Middleton's Superga Sneakers Are On Sale for $45," 30 Mar. 2021 Carroll can trace his ancestry on both sides of his family back to enslaved people who worked in the cotton fields of the Carolinas., "Brown University students vote to support reparations for descendants of enslaved people connected to the school," 29 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Young women were among the first to cotton on to TikTok’s appeal. Rachel Monroe, The Atlantic, "98 Million TikTok Followers Can’t Be Wrong," 20 Nov. 2020 Over the past 15 years, the public has cottoned on. The Economist, "Aygay angslay Gay people in Myanmar have adopted a secret language," 30 May 2020 The animals don't cotton to coyotes but are docile and shy toward people and Kias. Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press, "2021 Kia Seltos brings Telluride style to affordable small SUV," 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., "The Boom Of Water-Free Beauty," 6 Feb. 2020 The lad is practically addicted to diving at this stage, but at least everyone seems to be cottoning on to that fact., "LMAO: The Best Memes & Funnies From Around European Football This Gameweek," 3 Sep. 2019 Disappointingly, for those of us who cottoned to the folktale of a new economy driven by brilliant little Edisons and Teslas in Everlane, technological breakthroughs were, by 2015, believed to be too easily copied. Wired, "Tech Marketing Is Losing Its Cool," 22 Oct. 2019 She’s in love with a fresh-faced young sailor (Burke Swanson), whom Serafina, having at last cottoned on to Rosario’s infidelity, treats like a seasoned predator. Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker, "American Dreams in “The Rose Tattoo” and “Soft Power”," 21 Oct. 2019 But Liverpool supporters cottoned on to his comments pretty quickly, taking the very first opportunity to correct the two-time Premier League champion., "Pep Guardiola Winds Up Liverpool Twitter With Comments on Aymeric Laporte," 30 Aug. 2019

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.

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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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Time Traveler for cotton

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

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Last Updated

7 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Cotton.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for cotton



English Language Learners Definition of cotton

: a soft, white material that grows on the seeds of a tall plant and that is used to make cloth also : the plants on which this material grows
: cloth that is made of cotton also : clothing that is made of this cloth
chiefly British : yarn that is made of 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 cotton handkerchiefs


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

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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