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

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 Given the unpredictable, America-first attitude of Trump and his advisors, Macron isn’t like to accomplish much with that differential approach. Chandran Nair, Quartz, "It’s time the world ghosts Trump and gets down to real work," 21 Sep. 2019 Kara uses a technique known as differential privacy, where the ingredients for training an AI system come together with limited visibility to all parties involved. Gregory Barber, WIRED, "AI Needs Your Data—and You Should Get Paid for It," 8 Aug. 2019 Take the offense out of it, that differential straight-up torpedoed any chance of the Niners’ being competitive last season. Dieter Kurtenbach, The Mercury News, "Kurtenbach: Three reasons why the 49ers will make the playoffs in 2019," 3 Sep. 2019 But this next wave will likely have differential impacts on occupations. Robert D. Atkinson, National Review, "Higher Productivity Is Good for Workers," 25 July 2019 The run differential numbers aren’t much in this year’s Tigers’ favor, either. Ryan Ford, Detroit Free Press, "81 games down, the 2019 Detroit Tigers are dancing in 2003 territory," 7 June 2019 Given their goal-differential edge, the Americans would secure first place with a win or a draw, while Panama would need a win to top the group. Avi Creditor, SI.com, "LIVE: USA, Panama Vie for First in Gold Cup Group," 26 June 2019 But today, Pickett said, natural law theory is mostly used to justify differential treatment of LGBTQ people. Kathryn Joyce, The New Republic, "The Man Behind the State Department’s New “Natural Law” Focus," 14 June 2019 Yes, goal differential matters, so the more goals the better. Bill Goodykoontz, azcentral, "Carli Lloyd's golf-clap celebration after scoring a World Cup goal was perfect. Here's why," 3 June 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Canada are on top of Group A with a plus-nine goal differential after scoring seven times in two games against Cuba. Tim Brown, oregonlive, "USMNT vs Canada soccer: Live updates, score, TV channel, how to watch free live stream online (CONCACAF Nations League)," 15 Nov. 2019 The Steelers are second in the NFL with a plus-13 turnover differential. Mary Kay Cabot, cleveland, "Watch the Browns talk about their showdown with the Steelers, and some numbers you need to know," 14 Nov. 2019 Pittsburgh ranks second in the NFL with a plus-13 turnover differential. Esten Mclaren, USA TODAY Sportsbook Wire, "Steelers-Browns odds: Cleveland favored in TNF battle with Pittsburgh," 11 Nov. 2019 For most of the game, Joppatowne (4-6) bore little resemblance to the team that closed the regular season with a -71 point differential and a 35-14 loss to these same Huskies a week ago. Chris Jeter, baltimoresun.com, "Brown leads Joppatowne to upset over Patterson Mill in first round of football playoffs," 9 Nov. 2019 The Colts are the 14th team since the AFL-NFL merger to go 5-2 with a point differential of seven points or less. Nat Newell, Indianapolis Star, "Are the Colts good or lucky?," 30 Oct. 2019 Former University of Denver standout Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild appeared to call out his coach, Bruce Boudreau, following Thursday’s 4-0 loss to Montreal that left the Wild 1-6 with a league-worst minus-15 goals differential. Mike Chambers, The Denver Post, "Chambers: Take it from Joel Quenneville, the Avs are deep and dangerous," 19 Oct. 2019 The Lions finished last in the league defensively last year, allowing 74 goals with a -31 goal differential. Julia Poe, Pro Soccer USA, "For Orlando City goalkeeper Brian Rowe, long wait to become a starter has been worth it," 19 Sep. 2019 The Diamondbacks have risen from below .500 to dive headfirst into the playoff race with a plus-80 run differential. Michael Shapiro, SI.com, "MVP Candidate Ketel Marte Fueling Diamondbacks' September Surge," 10 Sep. 2019

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

18 Nov 2019

Time Traveler for differential

The first known use of differential was in 1615

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More Definitions for differential


How to pronounce differential (audio)

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).


concealed or difficult to comprehend

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