em·​pir·​i·​cal | \ im-ˈpir-i-kəl How to pronounce empirical (audio) , em- \
variants: or less commonly empiric \ im-​ˈpir-​ik How to pronounce empiric (audio) , em-​ How to pronounce empiric (audio) \

Definition of empirical

1 : originating in or based on observation or experience empirical data
2 : relying on experience or observation alone often without due regard for system and theory an empirical basis for the theory
3 : capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment empirical laws
4 : of or relating to empiricism

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Empirical Has Roots in Latin and Greek

When empirical first appeared as an adjective in English, it meant simply "in the manner of an empiric." An empiric was a member of an ancient sect of doctors who practiced medicine based exclusively on experience, as contrasted with those who relied on theory or philosophy. The name empiric derives from Latin empiricus, itself from Greek empeirikos ("experienced"). It ultimately traces back to the verb peiran, meaning "to try, attempt, or experiment."

Examples of empirical in a Sentence

Eventually, access to electron microscopes and X-ray diffraction technology provided the necessary empirical evidence to test the hypotheses, and the jigsaw pieces began to fall into place. — Gail Nichols, Ceramics Monthly, February 2002 No religion, new or old, is subject to empirical proof, so what we have is a contest between faiths. — Harvey Cox, Atlantic, March 1999 They collected plenty of empirical data from their experiments. guidelines for raising children that are based on empirical evidence
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Recent Examples on the Web There is simply no empirical evidence that most people who lack a belief in God are immoral. Phil Zuckerman, The Conversation, "Why is it so hard for atheists to get voted in to Congress?," 5 Oct. 2020 To the extent that the antipolice rhetoric has no basis in any empirical reality, Mr. Goodell and the NFL are also playing the role of the useful idiots. Jason L. Riley, WSJ, "Are You Ready for Some Political Football?," 8 Sep. 2020 An Emory University criminal law professor said empirical evidence shows judges are not extensively reviewing requests for search warrants before approving them. Nyamekye Daniel, Washington Examiner, "No-knock warrants in Georgia under microscope since Breonna Taylor shooting," 16 Sep. 2020 Quetelet’s approach was empirical, experiential, and predicated on statistical enquiry. Popular Science, "Infographics have helped keep us alive for centuries," 7 Sep. 2020 If the research of economists at Rice and elsewhere weren’t convincing enough, there’d also be the empirical evidence from countries where wealth taxes have already been tried. Brad Polumbo, National Review, "More Proof that ‘Progressive’ Wealth Taxes Hurt Average Americans," 28 Aug. 2020 Ongoing research is essential to understanding the conflicts over evolution and climate change, among other troublesome topics, and what seems to be a wholesale rejection of empirical evidence by many Americans. David L. Coddon, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Arts & Culture Newsletter: ‘Finish the Fight’ marks the centennial of 19th amendment’s ratification," 27 Aug. 2020 For portfolio managers, empirical results, not a lack of funds, or hype, would determine when to advance products and when to cut them off. Bernard Avishai, The New Yorker, "The Case for a Coronavirus-Vaccine Bond," 15 Aug. 2020 There’s ample empirical evidence showing this trend already in action in California. Andrew Stuttaford, National Review, "The Capital Letter: Week of August 17," 21 Aug. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'empirical.' 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 empirical

1576, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for empirical

empiric "of physicians in ancient Greece and Rome holding that treatment should be based on observation rather than theory" (going back to Middle English emperic, borrowed from early Medieval Latin empīricus, borrowed from Greek empeirikós, "based on observation (of medical treatment), experienced") + -al entry 1 — more at empiric

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Time Traveler for empirical

Time Traveler

The first known use of empirical was in 1576

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Last Updated

15 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Empirical.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empirical. Accessed 26 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for empirical


How to pronounce empirical (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of empirical

: based on testing or experience


em·​pir·​i·​cal | \ -i-kəl How to pronounce empirical (audio) \
variants: also empiric \ -​ik How to pronounce empiric (audio) \

Medical Definition of empirical

1 archaic
a : following or used in the practice of the empirics — compare rational sense 2
b : being or befitting a quack or charlatan
2 : originating in or based on observation or experiment much medical lore had had an empirical origin…centuries of trial-and-error gropings after remedies— R. H. Shryock
3 : capable of being confirmed, verified, or disproved by observation or experiment empirical statements or laws

Other Words from empirical

empirically \ -​i-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce empirically (audio) \ adverb

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