dif·​fer·​en·​tial | \ ˌdi-fə-ˈren(t)-shəl \

Definition of differential

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : of, relating to, or constituting a difference : distinguishing differential characteristics
b : making a distinction between individuals or classes differential tax rates
c : based on or resulting from a differential
d : functioning or proceeding differently or at a different rate differential melting
2 mathematics : being, relating to, or involving a differential (see differential entry 2 sense 1) or differentiation

3 physics

a : relating to quantitative differences (as of motion or pressure)
b : producing effects by reason of quantitative differences



Definition of differential (Entry 2 of 2)

1 mathematics

a : the product (see product sense 1) of the derivative of a function of one variable by the increment of the independent variable
b : a sum of products in which each product consists of a partial derivative of a given function of several variables multiplied by the corresponding increment and which contains as many products as there are independent variables in the function
2 : a difference between comparable individuals or classes a price differential also : the amount of such a difference
3a : a drivetrain gear assembly connecting two collinear shafts or axles (such as those of the rear wheels of an automobile) and permitting one shaft to revolve faster than the other a locking rear differential
b : a case covering such an assembly

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Other Words from differential


differentially \ -​ˈren(t)-​shə-​lē \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for differential

Synonyms: Adjective

discriminating, discriminational, discriminative, discriminatory

Antonyms: Adjective


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Examples of differential in a Sentence


did away with differential pay scales for men and women doing the same work

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Last year, 19 percent of companies that went public on US exchanges had at least two classes of stock with differential voting rights. Emily Stewart, Vox, "Mark Zuckerberg is essentially untouchable at Facebook," 21 Nov. 2018 The city has tried differential pay plans before in schools. Leslie Brody, WSJ, "NYC and Teachers Union Reach Tentative $2.1 Billion Deal," 11 Oct. 2018 It’s based on a technique called differential privacy, designed to protect individuals’ identity even when data allegedly has been anonymized. Tom Simonite, WIRED, "How a Startup Is Using the Blockchain to Protect Your Privacy," 11 July 2018 Even if Denmark were to lose, Australia would need to win and make up a goal-differential edge of three in order to unseat Christian Eriksen & Co. for second place. Charlotte Carroll, SI.com, "How to Watch Denmark vs. France: World Cup Live Stream, TV Channel," 26 June 2018 That's very differential than the attacks on Melania Trump reading a book to kids, English is her fifth language. Fox News, "Gorka: Instead of learning from 2016, the press doubled down," 6 Apr. 2018 With regard to the testing for discrimination against persons with disabilities, three of the 20 tests, or 15 percent, showed differential treatment against the person and his or her need of a reasonable accommodation. Dwight Adams, Indianapolis Star, "'Significant' housing discrimination found in Marion County, study says," 5 Apr. 2018 Suddenly, both Dre and Bow are confronted with their own double standards about the differential treatment of their son and daughter. refinery29.com, "Black-ish Went To The Sunken Place Last Night For A Different Reason," 14 Mar. 2018 Consumers intuitively understand differential pricing. John Rennie Short, Smithsonian, "Should U.S. Cities Use Congestion Pricing To Ease Traffic?," 8 Feb. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

That differential has since contracted to about $5. Rebecca Elliott, WSJ, "Oil Giants Start to Dominate U.S. Shale Boom," 15 Nov. 2018 Some Republican operatives working on the campaign have cited that fundraising differential — Lamb has raised $3.9 million through Feb. 21 compared with $918,000 by Saccone — as one of the reasons the Democrat has made this a competitive race. Time, "Donald Trump Heads to Pennsylvania Steel Country," 10 Mar. 2018 The main reason for the differential appears to be that residents in deregulated areas either don’t trust, don’t understand or simply don’t want to take the time to comparison shop, consumer advocate say. Gordon Dickson, star-telegram, "Here’s how you can lower your electric bill, but make sure you read the fine print," 22 Jan. 2018 This differential is largely caused by the sharp increase in numbers of men not living with minor children. Andrew L. Yarrow, Vox, "I spoke to hundreds of American men who still can’t find work," 15 Sep. 2018 When a patient comes to see you in the office, there’s a big power differential and people are afraid. Eric Johnson, Recode, "The internet’s favorite Goop critic Dr. Jen Gunter says ‘medical conspiracy theories’ are running amok online," 20 Aug. 2018 All came in close extra-inning games, without a run differential as big as this one’s, after all other bullpen options had been exhausted. Emma Baccellieri, SI.com, "The Rays and Marlins Played An Incredibly Strange Game on Tuesday Night," 4 July 2018 Russia had the third-greatest upset by differential since the FIFA rankings started in 1992, behind Nigeria's win over France in 1998 and South Africa's victory over France in 2010, both in the group stage. Ronald Blum, chicagotribune.com, "'Tiki-taka' generation ends as Spain leave the World Cup," 1 July 2018 But the Angels last decade repeatedly showed how to win despite a modest run differential: with a good but not deep bullpen, and with winning the close games and losing the blowouts. Bill Shaikin, latimes.com, "Three up, three down: Paul Goldschmidt has awoken; all six division winners could repeat," 16 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'differential.' 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 differential


1615, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1871, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for differential


borrowed from Medieval Latin differentiālis, from Latin differentia difference entry 1 + -ālis -al entry 1


noun derivative of differential entry 1

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Last Updated

16 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for differential

The first known use of differential was in 1615

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English Language Learners Definition of differential

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: relating to or based on a difference : treating some people or groups differently from others



English Language Learners Definition of differential (Entry 2 of 2)

: a difference between people or things

: a gear or an arrangement of gears in a vehicle that allows one wheel to turn faster than another when the vehicle is going around a curve


dif·​fer·​en·​tial | \ ˌdif-ə-ˈren-chəl \

Medical Definition of differential

1 : of, relating to, or constituting a difference differential birth rates in different economic levels
2 : making a distinction between individuals or classes differential cell counts differential staining

Other Words from differential

differentially \ -​ˈrench-​(ə-​)lē \ adverb

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Comments on differential

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


a complex dispute or argument

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