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

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 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

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The team’s goal differential of minus-19 was also a record. Kevin Baxter, latimes.com, "Soccer! U.S.-France is the match everyone was waiting for," 25 June 2019 Some quibbled about the 13-0 score, not recognizing goal differential is the first tiebreaker at the World Cup. Nancy Armour, USA TODAY, "Opinion: US women aren't backing off at World Cup," 16 June 2019 But the Scandinavians may also try to run up the score in an attempt to level the goal differential with the Americans. Jenna Fryer, chicagotribune.com, "USWNT face Chile with a chance to advance in the World Cup," 16 June 2019 The way to change this is to change the rules so that goal-differential only counts against, say the top 12 teams in the tournament. Dave Hyde, sun-sentinel.com, "Hyde5: Rules make U.S. soccer run up score — so change the rules," 12 June 2019 At the World Cup, goal differential becomes important in deciding tie-breakers for the knockout stage. Anne M. Peterson, courant.com, "US catches heat for World Cup goal celebrations," 12 June 2019 In Fairfax County, Virginia, a wealthy county, just 350 miles away, life expectancy for men was nearly 82 years, an 18-year differential. Tara Golshan, Vox, "Read: Bernie Sanders defines his vision for democratic socialism in the United States," 12 June 2019 Goal differential is used as a tiebreaker in the group stage to determine seeding coming out of the group. Jamie Goldberg, oregonlive.com, "Did USA show smart strategy or poor sportsmanship in scoring 13 goals against Thailand in FIFA Women’s World Cup?," 11 June 2019 The Brazilians had a plus-eight goal differential thanks largely to their 5–0 win over Peru to conclude group-stage action. Kaelen Jones, SI.com, "Brazil vs. Paraguay Live Stream, TV Channel: Watch Copa América," 27 June 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

15 Jul 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).


an act or instance of editing or removing

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