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

For efficiency’s sake, the military would love empirical tests that can help focus on only the most promising candidates. Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics, "The Air Force Is Changing How Special Ops Fighters Are Trained," 12 Feb. 2019 Pirates and traders, an empirical fact of a knowable past, seemed more remote and fantastic than a Maya world conjured from stone and dust. Michael Snyder, New York Times, "In Campeche, Pyramids Are Everywhere. Crowds Are Not," 2 Feb. 2018 To fill the empirical gap, the Sarah Horst Laboratory in 2015 built and inaugurated PHAZER to create these alien atmospheres and uncover clues trapped inside our telescopic data. Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics, "We're Recreating Alien Atmospheres on Earth To Search for Life Beyond the Solar System," 20 Dec. 2018 This goes against the empirical evidence on the topic, which has consistently found that more incarceration and longer prison sentences do little to combat crime. German Lopez, Vox, "The Senate just passed criminal justice reform," 19 Dec. 2018 Uncertain costs, but robust rankings Ricke and her colleagues leaned heavily on empirical data for their calculations. Cathleen O'grady, Ars Technica, "The US would suffer some of the biggest costs of climate change," 30 Sep. 2018 Determining the viability of drugs will always depend on collecting empirical data about their effectiveness, and the agency has continued to improve the scope and accuracy of its trials. WSJ, "Patients Win With More Access to Treatments," 8 July 2018 Rehm said he was not given empirical data that shows improved academics or finances by creating larger school systems. Rick Kambic, chicagotribune.com, "Mundelein elementary and high school districts to share superintendent who will get $70,000 raise," 24 May 2018 Hayden is nonetheless impassioned about the importance of empirical data to decision-making. Matthew Continetti, New York Times, "Former C.I.A. Head Michael Hayden Warns of an ‘Assault on Intelligence’," 3 May 2018

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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Last Updated

29 May 2019

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Time Traveler for empirical

The first known use of empirical was in 1576

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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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Comments on empirical

What made you want to look up empirical? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


incapable of being surmounted or overcome

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