hy·​dro·​car·​bon | \ˈhī-drō-ˌkär-bən \

Definition of hydrocarbon 

: an organic compound (such as acetylene or butane) containing only carbon and hydrogen and often occurring in petroleum, natural gas, coal, and bitumens

Examples of hydrocarbon in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

The two countries’ economic and commercial relationship has lagged—relegated in large part to Chinese investment in natural-resource plays and purchases of hydrocarbons and other commodities. Stu Woo, WSJ, "Alibaba Teams Up With Russian Tech Giant," 11 Sep. 2018 Ultraviolet light from the sun transforms the methane into heavier hydrocarbons, and eventually into reddish organic material known as tholins. Nola Taylor Redd, Space.com, "Celebrating 40 Years of Pluto's Largest Moon, Charon," 14 July 2018 The region could hold a quarter of the world’s as-yet-undiscovered hydrocarbons, according to the United States Geological Survey. The Economist, "China wants to be a polar power," 12 Apr. 2018 The authors used official government statistics and satellite images to track the emissions of polycyclic hydrocarbons and the incidence of lung cancer, checking their correlation with beehive coal oven use. Diana Gitig, Ars Technica, "Chinese ban on small coal-burning ovens took 15 years," 28 Feb. 2018 The company has 32 patents to develop bacteria which transforms sugar found in corn, beet, wheat straw and wood chips into isobutene, a hydrocarbon usually derived from oil, which ended up in the Audi engine. Bloomberg.com, "Your Regular Audi Could Run on Straw Soon," 17 Apr. 2018 These polyaromatic hydrocarbons are the the components of the stone that turned to diamond from the heat and pressure of entering Earth's atmosphere and then impacting the Sahara Desert. Jay Bennett, Popular Mechanics, "Incredible 'Hypatia' Stone Contains Compounds Not Found in the Solar System," 10 Jan. 2018 Titan, of Saturn, has an interior water ocean too, as well as liquid hydrocarbons on its surface. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, "Senior scientist argues that we should bypass Europa for Enceladus," 5 July 2018 If all goes well, a massive fireball of hydrocarbons will ignite in the New Mexico desert some time in the next year. Alexis C. Madrigal, The Atlantic, "The Great Crude-Oil Fireball Test," 5 Feb. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hydrocarbon.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of hydrocarbon

1826, in the meaning defined above

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about hydrocarbon

Share hydrocarbon

Statistics for hydrocarbon

Last Updated

29 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for hydrocarbon

The first known use of hydrocarbon was in 1826

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for hydrocarbon



English Language Learners Definition of hydrocarbon

: a substance (such as coal or natural gas) that contains only carbon and hydrogen


hy·​dro·​car·​bon | \ˌhī-drə-ˈkär-bən \

Kids Definition of hydrocarbon

: a substance containing only carbon and hydrogen


hy·​dro·​car·​bon | \-ˈkär-bən \

Medical Definition of hydrocarbon 

: an organic compound (as acetylene, benzene, or butane) containing only carbon and hydrogen and often occurring in petroleum, natural gas, coal, and bitumens

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on hydrocarbon

Spanish Central: Translation of hydrocarbon

Nglish: Translation of hydrocarbon for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about hydrocarbon

Comments on hydrocarbon

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


to move with a clumsy heavy tread

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!