gra·​di·​ent | \ˈgrā-dē-ənt \

Definition of gradient 

1a : the rate of regular or graded (see grade entry 2 sense transitive 2) ascent or descent : inclination

b : a part sloping upward or downward

2 : change in the value of a quantity (such as temperature, pressure, or concentration) with change in a given variable and especially per unit distance in a specified direction

3 : the vector sum of the partial derivatives with respect to the three coordinate variables x, y, and z of a scalar quantity whose value varies from point to point

4 : a graded difference in physiological activity along an axis (as of the body or an embryonic field)

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Did You Know?

Any slope can be called a gradient. In the interstate highway system, the maximum gradient is 6 percent; in other words, the highway may never ascend more than 6 vertical feet over a distance of 100 feet. Any rate of change that's shown on a graph may have a sloped gradient. Suppose the graph's horizontal axis shows the passage of time and its vertical axis shows some activity; if the activity is happening very fast, then the gradient of the line on the graph will be steep, but if it's slow the gradient will be gentle, or gradual.

Examples of gradient in a Sentence

the path goes up at a pretty steep gradient before leveling off

Recent Examples on the Web

Her lids were painted a gradient of pink and orange — accessorized with extra long lashes, natch — that looked just like the night sky at twilight. Zoë Weiner, Teen Vogue, "Cardi B Wore Silver Hair and Sunset-Colored Makeup," 14 Nov. 2018 The purple color way isn’t a solid color, but a gradient that fades from black to purple from the top to the bottom of the phone. Dan Seifert, The Verge, "The OnePlus 6T ‘thunder purple’ is coming to North America and Europe this week," 12 Nov. 2018 The owners ended up painting the 50 layers of wooden cladding different shades of blue-green, creating a subtle gradient effect that contrasts perfectly with the black panels at the top of the house. Liz Stinson, Curbed, "Modern home stands out with gradient facade," 5 Nov. 2018 The desktop interface is styled a lot closer to the legacy application, and the use of animations and gradients has been somewhat toned down. Peter Bright, Ars Technica, "Microsoft is finally going to make the Skype UI good for the things people use," 4 Sep. 2018 Courchevel Altiport, located in the middle of the French Alps, has an incredibly short runway, just 1,722 feet, and a mind-blowing 18.66 percent gradient: The runway itself is like a ski slope. Peter Greenberg, Town & Country, "Unfriendly Skies," 7 Feb. 2014 But the winds will be particularly strong in this storm because of the massive change in air pressure over a relatively small region; this change is known as the pressure gradient and is what really drives wind speed. Jason Samenow, Washington Post, "Friday’s nor’easter may bring worst wind storm to Washington region since Sandy in 2012," 1 Mar. 2018 It's got 8 dye based inks for gradients and color, three of them solely for grayscale to allow for detail within your black and white prints. David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "Get a Big Price Cut on One of Canon's Best Printers," 17 Nov. 2017 According to one analysis, drafting becomes essentially irrelevant on gradients steeper than 7.2 percent. Alex Hutchinson, Outside Online, "You’re Faster with Friends, Even Uphill," 20 June 2018

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

1835, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for gradient

Latin gradient-, gradiens, present participle of gradi

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Statistics for gradient

Last Updated

18 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for gradient

The first known use of gradient was in 1835

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More Definitions for gradient



English Language Learners Definition of gradient

: a place where the ground slopes up or down


gra·​di·​ent | \ˈgrād-ē-ənt \

Medical Definition of gradient 

1 : change in the value of a quantity (as temperature, pressure, or concentration) with change in a given variable and especially per unit on a linear scale

2 : a graded difference in physiological activity along an axis (as of the body or an embryonic field)

3 usually gradient of effect : change in response with distance from the stimulus

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Comments on gradient

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by force of circumstances

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