dic·​tion ˈdik-shən How to pronounce diction (audio)
: vocal expression : enunciation
: pronunciation and enunciation of words in singing
: choice of words especially with regard to correctness, clearness, or effectiveness
obsolete : verbal description
ˈdik-shnəl How to pronounce diction (audio)
ˈdik-shnəl-ē How to pronounce diction (audio)

Did you know?

When your English teacher complains about some of the words you chose to use in an essay, she's talking about your diction. She may also use the term when commenting on the word choices made by a poet, and why a particular word was the best one possible in a particular line. But the second meaning of diction is just as common, and your English teacher might use that one on you as well, especially when she's asked you to read something aloud and you mumble your way through it.

Examples of diction in a Sentence

He has wisely chosen to render almost all the material in what novelists and writers of creative nonfiction like to call "close third person," approximating the diction and consciousness of his characters but retaining the freedom to wander into the bigger picture. Thomas Mallon, New York Times Book Review, 22 Feb. 2009
No one is better than Didion at using flatness of affect and formality of diction to convey seething anger and disdain. New Yorker, 8 Oct. 2001
When he sang Anatol in the world premiere of Samuel Barber's Vanessa, in 1958, Gedda's performance received high marks for impeccable diction and enunciation—in that mostly American cast, he was the only principal whose English could be understood. Patrick J. Smith, Opera News, November 1999
The actor's diction was so poor I could hardly understand what he was saying. The student's essay was full of careless diction.
Recent Examples on the Web Her diction is pristine, as is McKinny’s — and his warmly robust bass-baritone voice makes De Rocher’s humanity evident from the start. Zachary Woolfe, New York Times, 27 Sep. 2023 The actors, who enter at fever pitch (and somewhat blurry diction), accelerate to levels that are a thrill to behold. Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times, 6 Oct. 2023 For more than five hours, the men worked with the Met artists, under the conductor Steven Osgood, practicing rhythm, diction and dynamics in three sections that feature the chorus. Javier C. Hernández, New York Times, 4 Oct. 2023 Maltman’s diction, though, lacked punch, and his voice thinned out on the lower end. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 25 Sep. 2023 Sean Panikkar, as Loge, darted about with balletic grace, exhibiting pinpoint intonation and crisp diction. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, 25 Sep. 2023 Their diction was stately, but audiences of every class and age listened raptly to Homer’s graphic imagery and impassioned dialogue, scored to a propulsive beat. Judith Thurman, The New Yorker, 11 Sep. 2023 The delightful jazz singer — and songwriter to boot — boasts perfect diction, a warm-toned voice, and improvisational agility. BostonGlobe.com, 6 Sep. 2023 One senses that the actor has obsessively studied every TV appearance, every inch of documentary footage, to recreate Bernstein’s diction and manner, his haughty and rapid-fire way of speaking. Bilge Ebiri, Vulture, 2 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'diction.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


earlier, "word, phrase," going back to Middle English dicion "saying," borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French dictyoun "word," borrowed from Latin dictiōn-, dictiō "act of speaking, speech, (in grammar) word, expression, form," from dic-, variant stem of dīcere "to talk, speak, say, utter" + -tiōn-, -tiō, suffix of action nouns; dīcere going back to Indo-European *dei̯ḱ- "show, point out," whence also, with varying ablaut, Germanic *tīh-a- "point out" (whence Old English tēon "to accuse," Old Saxon aftīhan "to deny," Old High German zīhan "to accuse," Old Norse tjā, tēa "to show, report," Gothic gateihan "to announce, tell"), Greek deíknȳmi, deiknýnai "to show, point out," Sanskrit diśati "(s/he) shows, exhibits"

First Known Use

1581, in the meaning defined at sense 3

Time Traveler
The first known use of diction was in 1581

Dictionary Entries Near diction

Cite this Entry

“Diction.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diction. Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


dic·​tion ˈdik-shən How to pronounce diction (audio)
: choice of words especially with regard to correctness, clearness, or effectiveness : wording
careless diction in the student's essay
: quality of vocal expression : enunciation
a good singer with excellent diction

More from Merriam-Webster on diction

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