gra·​da·​tion grā-ˈdā-shən How to pronounce gradation (audio)
: a series forming successive stages
the gradations of evolutionary development
: a step or place in an ordered scale
: an advance by regular degrees
gradations of social progress
: a gradual passing from one tint or shade to another
: the act or process of grading
: ablaut
gradational adjective
gradationally adverb

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In the Boy Scouts, gradations of rank move upward from Tenderfoot to Eagle Scout. A violin or a voice can produce gradations of musical pitch too small to appear in written music. In the 18th century Jonathan Swift could even write of "the several kinds and gradations of laughter, which ladies must daily practice by the looking-glass".

Examples of gradation in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web His brushwork was guided not by the workings of discreet blotches of color under relatively even light conditions but by gradations of light and dark. Sebastian Smee, Washington Post, 20 Nov. 2023 Leaves transition from shades of green to a breathtaking gradation of red, orange and yellow. Tokyo Halfie, Condé Nast Traveler, 9 Oct. 2023 Another key problem is that the movie, though appealingly shot in gradations of dreaminess and realism by cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler, is trapped between character study and avenging thriller, leaving both sides starved for oxygen. Robert Abele, Los Angeles Times, 3 Nov. 2023 If the light mentioned in the title refers to subtle gradations on a spectrum, the light in the limited series is like having somebody activate their iPhone flashlight app in your eyes. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 10 Sep. 2023 The diverse landscape unveils its ever-changing tapestry of colors, from the delicate pink sakura cherry blossoms in the spring to the vibrant fiery gradation of koyo autumn foliage. Tokyo Halfie, Condé Nast Traveler, 9 Oct. 2023 In Van Cleef & Arpels’s latest high jewelry collection, the French jeweler unveiled its own take on the classic: a string of white cultured pearls, meticulously color-matched and assembled with a subtle gradation in size. Ashley Wong, WSJ, 1 Oct. 2023 And there’s a gradation between, because there are people who show up once and then might not show up for the rest of the year. Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times, 12 Sep. 2023 And all these categories and gradations of marginalization are enforced by legal, political, and security measures imposed by state actors who are accountable to only a portion of the population. Michael Barnett, Foreign Affairs, 14 Apr. 2023 See More

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

Word History


see grade entry 1

First Known Use

1549, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of gradation was in 1549

Dictionary Entries Near gradation

Cite this Entry

“Gradation.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


gra·​da·​tion grā-ˈdā-shən How to pronounce gradation (audio)
: a series of grades
: the act or process of grading
-shnəl How to pronounce gradation (audio)

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