dif·​fer·​en·​tial | \ ˌdi-fə-ˈren(t)-shəl How to pronounce differential (audio) \

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 \ ˌdi-​fə-​ˈren(t)-​shə-​lē How to pronounce differential (audio) \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for differential

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Adjective

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Examples of differential in a Sentence

Adjective did away with differential pay scales for men and women doing the same work
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Now that longstanding inequities have been highlighted by differential infection, hospitalization and mortality rates by race, political and public health officials can begin a careful analysis of the gaps in health care coverage by race. Claudia Finkelstein, The Conversation, "Anxious about going out into the world? You’re not alone, but there’s help," 8 Apr. 2021 In an annual report issued Wednesday, the State Department for the second time concluded that Hong Kong does not warrant differential treatment from mainland China under U.S. law. Washington Post, "Hong Kong court finds veteran pro-democracy activists, most over 60, guilty of unauthorized assembly," 1 Apr. 2021 There appear to be differential impacts often seen in various freeze events. Alan Clemons, Outdoor Life, "Massive Fish and Wildlife Kills in the Wake of Southern Ice Storm," 25 Feb. 2021 States and cities in aggregate still ran current budget deficits, but the differential growth rates were narrowing the gap. Milton Ezrati, Forbes, "States And Cities Make A Financial Killing," 11 Mar. 2021 Michael Thieme, the assistant director for decennial census programs at the Census Bureau, has expressed confidence in differential privacy. Jeremy Beaman, Washington Examiner, "Alabama sues Census Bureau over new privacy technique and data delay," 10 Mar. 2021 The Alabama lawsuit takes on a new privacy protection technique known as differential privacy. Star Tribune, "Alabama sues to stop redistricting delay, privacy initiative," 10 Mar. 2021 And that differential treatment doesn’t end in the workplace. Your Fat Friend, SELF, "How You Might Be Benefiting From Thinness—Even If You Don’t Feel ‘Thin’," 9 Mar. 2021 Very roughly, this result produces a count of solutions to special differential equations on curved spaces in topological terms. Quanta Magazine, "Isadore Singer Transcended Mathematical Boundaries," 4 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Robert Williams got the call at the start and the size differential was just too much to overcome. BostonGlobe.com, "Celtics don’t have the size to stop 76ers giant Joel Emiid, and other observations," 6 Apr. 2021 No player in the NBA represents as large a differential. Jeff Mcdonald, San Antonio Express-News, "The triple take: 76ers 134, Spurs 99," 14 Mar. 2021 Others offer a long-term contract and commit to pay the cost differential if yields drop. Meg Wilcox, Smithsonian Magazine, "To Meet Ambitious Emissions Goals, Large Food Companies Are Looking to Lock Carbon in Soil," 20 Feb. 2021 This year, though, the Wings’ goal differential is minus-19. Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press, "Here's why the Detroit Red Wings are better at 'answering the bell' after losses," 17 Feb. 2021 Likewise, if the spot price at settlement exceeds the futures contract’s price, the seller would suffer and a loss and be required to pay the buyer of the contract the price differential. Steve H. Hanke, National Review, "Scarce Water Finally Receives Its Due, Namely a Price," 7 Dec. 2020 Relative to the steep differentials seen in lumber markets over the past year or so, 20 percent actually isn’t much of a differential at all. Sal Gilbertie, Forbes, "Pent Up Demand Keeping Lumber Prices High As Building Season Nears," 25 Feb. 2021 Since Tuchel has taken over, Chelsea has won eight games and drawn four with an average points-per-game of 2.33, with a goal differential of 13:2. Manuel Veth, Forbes, "Bayern Munich Brush Off Lazio; Giants Await In Champions League Quarterfinals," 17 Mar. 2021 Auburn has won the last five, including an SEC Championship, but two had a single-digit differential. Giana Han, al, "‘Meaningful’ Tennessee-Auburn rivalry takes on more significance with AUTLIVE fundraiser," 26 Feb. 2021

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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Time Traveler for differential

Time Traveler

The first known use of differential was in 1615

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Statistics for differential

Last Updated

16 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Differential.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/differential. Accessed 18 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for differential



English Language Learners Definition of differential

 (Entry 1 of 2)

formal : 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
technical : 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 How to pronounce differential (audio) \

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 How to pronounce differential (audio) \ adverb

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