frac·​tal ˈfrak-tᵊl How to pronounce fractal (audio)
: any of various extremely irregular curves or shapes for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape to a given larger or smaller part when magnified or reduced to the same size
fractal adjective

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This term was coined in 1975 to describe shapes that seem to exist at both the small-scale and large-scale levels in the same natural object. Fractals can be seen in snowflakes, in which the microscopic crystals that make up a flake look much like the flake itself. They can also be seen in tree bark and in broccoli buds. Coastlines often represent fractals as well, being highly uneven at both a large scale and a very small scale. Fractal geometry has been important in many fields, including astronomy, physical chemistry, and fluid mechanics. And even some artists are benefiting, creating beautiful and interesting abstract designs by means of fractals.

Examples of fractal in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Today, just 40 years after its discovery, the fractal has become a cliché, borderline kitsch. Quanta Magazine, 26 Jan. 2024 The Mandelbrot set is more than a fractal, and not just in a metaphorical sense. Quanta Magazine, 26 Jan. 2024 It must be stated fractals are not mirror images just eerily repeating patterns. Clem Chambers, Forbes, 13 Nov. 2023 This fractal help guided me on a very profitable campaign in 2020-2021. Clem Chambers, Forbes, 13 Nov. 2023 Images from the field of fractal geometry entered popular culture in the mid-1980s via wildly colored, psychedelic images of a fractal that Mandelbrot investigated and now bears his name, the Mandelbrot set. Marissa Fessenden, Scientific American, 21 Dec. 2012 The scene conforms to the fractal pattern fanning out across the text: the fact of domination, the feeling of being ruled. Tobi Haslett, Harper's Magazine, 18 Sep. 2023 Designers Bruno Basso and Chris Brooke were pioneers in digital imaging on fabric—creating complex, vivid, and swirling imagery, including Byzantine fractals and Japanese florals—shaping garments with innovative pattern cutting that elevated and matched the graphics meticulously. Mark C. O'Flaherty, Robb Report, 17 Sep. 2023 Once again, ephemeral discoveries (in this case, a young professor’s find of a Nigerian chi wara mask in an antiques store) lead to gorgeous fractals of thought on culture, race and history, revealing inner currents of anger, memory and hope. Mark Athitakis, Los Angeles Times, 28 Aug. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'fractal.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from French fractal (adjective), fractale (noun), from Latin frāctus (past participle of frangere "to break, shatter") + French -al -al entry 1, -ale -al entry 2 — more at break entry 1

First Known Use

1975, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of fractal was in 1975

Dictionary Entries Near fractal

Cite this Entry

“Fractal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


frac·​tal ˈfrak-tᵊl How to pronounce fractal (audio)
: an irregular shape that looks the same at any scale on which it is examined

More from Merriam-Webster on fractal

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