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 For those looking for a Mustang that'll tackle a track, the PPL2 will never fail to impress and delight, but consider investing some of the savings into a differential cooler. David Beard, Car and Driver, "2019 Ford Mustang GT Performance Pack Level 2 vs. 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350: Which Is the Better Track-Day Toy?," 10 Jan. 2020 That three-game tumble also came with a point-differential slide of more than 100 points, from +89 in 2018 (eighth-best in the NFL) to -12 in 2019 (17th). Jim Ayello, Indianapolis Star, "Insider: A step-by-step examination of Chris Ballard's offseason to-do list," 5 Jan. 2020 The changes would mean a rise in the retirement age, currently to 62, and would end differential treatment. Heather Connolly, Quartz, "Why France is on strike," 6 Dec. 2019 The first half hasn’t been all bad — 119 points (tied for 22nd) and a plus-25 point differential (ninth-best). Ryan O’halloran, The Denver Post, "Not dynamic in the first half, Broncos offense has been dreadful in second half," 4 Dec. 2019 Precision farming, dependent on differential GPS location, reduces use of chemical inputs and increases outputs. Edward Lotterman, Twin Cities, "Real World Economics: One can be thankful for much even amid pessimism," 1 Dec. 2019 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 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Cusson Leung, JPMorgan’s head of Asia property research, said the high-end retail decline was structural, given the narrowing price differential with the rest of China, and increased online competition. Joanne Chiu, WSJ, "Prada and LVMH to Drop Leases as Hong Kong’s Retail Sparkle Fades," 21 Jan. 2020 Morgan said one way to reduce the height differential is to tilt your head when listening to someone. Jeanne Sahadi, CNN, "How CEOs can use body language to be less intimidating," 14 Jan. 2020 Despite the fame differential, the three girls became fast friends, sharing not only a love of penny candy but also a rare blood type. Jennifer Crittenden, The New Yorker, "The Path-Less-Travelled Hollywood Cemetery Tour," 11 Jan. 2020 State energy commission officials said in their report that refinery challenges, refining standards and occasional shutdowns or incidents at individual locations do not explain the cost differential. Los Angeles Times, "California’s high gas prices will be investigated for possible price fixing," 21 Oct. 2019 The differential struck members of both parties as notable. BostonGlobe.com, "WASHINGTON — President Trump and his allies are outspending rivals on impeachment-related advertising on Facebook, demonstrating their dominance on the platform as they wrestle for control of a fast-evolving narrative that could threaten his presidency.," 3 Oct. 2019 The Dolphins have gutted their roster and horded draft picks, and as a result they’ve been outscored by 117 points, the NFL’s largest three-game differential since at least 1940. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Winless Dolphins hope for better blocking against Chargers," 28 Sep. 2019 The first company therefore can pay you a lower salary because of that differential. Matt Darling, Quartz at Work, "Ready to destroy a longstanding argument against raising the minimum wage?," 28 Aug. 2019 All-wheel drive is automatically engaged by a small electric motor integrated into the rear differential. Frank A. Aukofer, Houston Chronicle, "2019 LEXUS UX 250h: Luxury hybrid comes with all-wheel drive," 14 July 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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Time Traveler for differential

Time Traveler

The first known use of differential was in 1615

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Statistics for differential

Last Updated

14 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Differential.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/differential. Accessed 26 Feb. 2020.

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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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