gra·​di·​ent | \ ˈgrā-dē-ənt How to pronounce gradient (audio) \

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 Even among straight-size people, there’s a gradient of treatment. Your Fat Friend, SELF, "How You Might Be Benefiting From Thinness—Even If You Don’t Feel ‘Thin’," 9 Mar. 2021 Because the forward weights used for inference are updated with each backward pass, the network still descends the gradient of the loss function, but by a different path. Quanta Magazine, "Artificial Neural Nets Finally Yield Clues to How Brains Learn," 18 Feb. 2021 However, this gradient can only form if the surface tension changes nonlinearly with the bulk ratio of the two liquids. Chris Lee, Ars Technica, "Explaining foam in the absence of soap: It’s a tension gradient," 10 Nov. 2020 This painting depicts a brilliant, multi-colored form line designed hummingbird with an arcing red, orange and yellow gradient background (see the finished version here). oregonlive, "Native art highlighted in Talking Walls at Beaverton’s Greenway Park," 22 Feb. 2021 The theory makes logical sense: Arctic warming reduces the gradient between warm and cold air, and thus weakens the temperature contrast mechanism which powers the strength of the jet stream. Jeff Berardelli, CBS News, "Climate change and record cold: What's behind the arctic extremes in Texas," 20 Feb. 2021 High pressure building into the Great Basin behind the storm system will set up a strong pressure gradient or differential between the high itself and the low-pressure storm system off the Baja coast. Los Angeles Times, "Strong, potentially damaging winds possible for L.A. region early next week, forecasters say," 16 Jan. 2021 These high-fashion sunglasses feature sophisticated Italian styling with clean, modern lines and smokey gradient lenses. Sian Babish,, "The best pre-Cyber Monday deals," 29 Nov. 2020 There is a sharp age gradient: Mortality rises steadily with age, and the disease is far more likely to be fatal in the elderly. Anchorage Daily News, "First, coronavirus infections increased. Then, hospitalizations. Now, deaths are on the rise.," 31 Oct. 2020

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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Time Traveler for gradient

Time Traveler

The first known use of gradient was in 1835

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Statistics for gradient

Last Updated

31 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Gradient.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Apr. 2021.

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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 How to pronounce gradient (audio) \

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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