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 differentially (audio) \ 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

They are differentially impacted by climate change and rightly expect differential attention and support from climate policy. David Roberts, Vox, "Washington votes no on a carbon tax — again," 6 Nov. 2018 That differential tax treatment encourages employers to shift compensation toward generous health benefits. James C. Capretta, WSJ, "An ObamaCare Tax Worth Keeping," 19 July 2018 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

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Their point differential in that span, +117, was the league’s best. Andrew Beaton, WSJ, "The Two NFL Teams Nobody Wants to Play Are Playing Each Other," 5 Jan. 2019 Uber’s differential privacy software doesn’t use a blockchain, a kind of digital records system guarded by cryptography that can limit and log who makes changes or additions. Tom Simonite, WIRED, "How a Startup Is Using the Blockchain to Protect Your Privacy," 11 July 2018 This isn’t a mere matter of there being a power differential between whites and various minority groups, as French would have it. Zack Beauchamp, Vox, "In defense of Sarah Jeong," 3 Aug. 2018 The second is that, if America accelerates and the rest of the world slows, widening differentials in interest rates would push up the dollar still more. The Economist, "Could a trade war derail global growth?," 21 June 2018 Another worry: Germany, which went 10-0 with a plus-39 goal differential in World Cup qualifying, was winless in its next five. Kevin Baxter, latimes.com, "Injuries leave questions for Germany, Mexico in World Cup Group F qualifying," 13 June 2018 The Timbers have gone 0-11-6 with a negative-21 goal differential in 17 games without the Colombian defensive midfielder dating back to July 2015. Jamie Goldberg, OregonLive.com, "Portland Timbers will face challenge against Kansas City as they try to win without Diego Chara," 7 June 2018 The biggest difference is that most systems these days are all-wheel-drive, meaning that there's a center differential of some sort that allows the front and rear tires to turn at different speeds. Ezra Dyer, Popular Mechanics, "How to Use Your 4WD System," 5 Dec. 2018 After the sweep in Chicago, the Brewers were averaging a mere 3.69 runs per game, with a run differential of plus-two. Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Since the big freeze-out in Chicago, Brewers have come closer to hitting on all cylinders," 23 May 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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Statistics for differential

Last Updated

23 Apr 2019

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)

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 differentially (audio) \ 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).


something valued as if it were money

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