lat·​er·​al | \ ˈla-tə-rəl How to pronounce lateral (audio) also ˈla-trəl \

Definition of lateral

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : of or relating to the side a lateral view
2 : situated on, directed toward, or coming from the side the lateral branches of a tree
3 : extending from side to side the lateral axis of an airplane
4 phonetics : produced with passage of breath around the side of a constriction formed with the tongue \l\ is lateral



Definition of lateral (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : a branch from the main part (as in an irrigation or electrical system)
2 : a pass in football thrown parallel to the line of scrimmage or in a direction away from the opponent's goal
3 : a lateral speech sound


lateraled; lateraling; laterals

Definition of lateral (Entry 3 of 3)

intransitive verb

: to throw a lateral

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Other Words from lateral


laterally adverb

Synonyms for lateral

Synonyms: Adjective

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Did You Know?

Lateral shows up in all kinds of contexts. A lateral job change is one that keeps you at about the same job level and salary. A coach might have special drills to improve his players' lateral speed and agility. The British speak of "lateral thinking", thinking that grabs ideas that may not seem to be relevant but turn out to work well—what we might call "thinking outside the box". But we know lateral best from football. A lateral pass is a pass of the ball between teammates that usually goes to the side and slightly backward from the direction in which they're advancing; unlike a forward pass, a lateral may be made from any position, and any number may be made in a single play.

Examples of lateral in a Sentence

Adjective the lateral force of an earthquake from the lateral view you can see how thick the wall really is
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective At least Horn, son of former Saints WR Joe Horn, might wind up being more than a lateral move after putting on a pro day show. Nate Davis, USA TODAY, "2021 NFL mock draft: How do 49ers' trade up to No. 3, free agency aftermath affect first round?," 27 Mar. 2021 Steps organizations can take to reduce their vulnerability to attack include enforcing least-privilege policies, which will limit the lateral movement an attacker can make once inside a network. Raj Mallempati, Forbes, "How The Pharmaceutical Industry Can Secure Networks To Avoid Cyberattacks," 18 Mar. 2021 Alualu picked up the slack considerably as a run defender, showing inherent power through contact, lateral movement skills to stay connected to his blocker on wide zone runs, a nonstop motor and developed understanding of how to get off blocks. John Owning, Dallas News, "Film room: 3 free-agent fits for the Cowboys’ defense, including one of DC Dan Quinn’s former players," 10 Mar. 2021 Plays a bit stiff at times and can improve lateral fluidity. Stephen Means, cleveland, "Ohio State football and the recruiting battle for 4-star defensive end Omari Abor," 7 Mar. 2021 Like many people at the beginning of their ALS journey, Trott’s father was first diagnosed with the less severe primary lateral sclerosis. San Diego Union-Tribune, "From caregiver to spokeswoman: Former ‘Bachelor’ contestant speaks out for ALS," 16 Mar. 2021 Among Harper’s early hires was Amos Alonzo Stagg, who served as football coach and was credited with innovations such as the reverse, man in motion, lateral pass, tackling dummy and numbered jerseys. Phil Rosenthal,, "So much for Chicago’s Big Ten team: 75 years ago, the University of Chicago told the conference it wanted out," 8 Mar. 2021 The refusal to respect, protect, or acknowledge Black women and their suffering within the early women’s fight for equality was counterproductive, and an indictment on performative progressivism and lateral oppression. Ashlee Marie Preston, Harper's BAZAAR, "Black Trans Women Have Always Been Integral in the Fight for Women’s Rights," 8 Mar. 2021 Prep time counts toward your three minutes, so spend a minute doing some side bends, lateral lunges and jogging in place before moving into jumping jacks. Dana Santas, CNN, "Stop sitting still and do these 8 activities throughout the workday — 3 minutes at a time," 5 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Riders could refresh their horses on the opposite side of Central, where a Salt River Project irrigation lateral often carried water. Douglas C. Towne, The Arizona Republic, "Murphy’s Bridle Path: The history of Phoenix’s former equestrian promenade," 5 Mar. 2021 Akers scored a two-point conversion on a hook-and-lateral from Jefferson, also a 2020 second-round draft pick. Los Angeles Times, "Bright future: Rookies Cam Akers, Van Jefferson shine on playoff stage," 16 Jan. 2021 Army field the kick, then tries to throw a lateral across the field, which was intercepted and returned for a score. Mark Heim |, al, "Watch Army’s throw across field on kick return result in Tulane TD," 14 Nov. 2020 The Chiefs scored on the next play, with quarterback Patrick Mahomes throwing a lateral to running back Le'Veon Bell for a 12-yard score to put the reigning Super Bowl champions up 29-15. Amie Just | Staff Writer,, "Cameron Jordan says there was 'no maliciousness' on play vs. Chiefs that led to ejection," 22 Dec. 2020 Against San Francisco, Dalton threw a lateral to Wilson, who lined up wide left. Dallas News, "10 truths from the Cowboys’ win: Tony Pollard, Donovan Wilson and the biggest surprise of this Dallas team," 21 Dec. 2020 The Dolphins then sprang a hook-and-ladder for the 2-point conversion, with receiver Isaiah Ford flipping a lateral to Ahmed, who ran into the end zone untouched. Paul Gereffi, ajc, "Dolphins eliminate Patriots from playoff race with 22-12 win," 20 Dec. 2020 Watson connected with Fuller, who was wide open, with a 34-yard touchdown on a trick play after handing the ball off and getting it back on a lateral. Larry Lage, Star Tribune, "Deshaun Watson's 4 TDs lift Texans to 41-25 win over Lions," 26 Nov. 2020 Watson connected with Fuller, who was wide open, with a 34-yard touchdown on a trick play after handing the ball off and getting it back on a lateral. Larry Lage,, "Houston Texans pull away to beat the Detroit Lions, who are now 13-29-1 with Matt Patricia as head coach," 26 Nov. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The vast majority of the time, when a football team tries to lateral its way down the field in desperation, the result benefits the defending the team. Chris Bumbaca, USA TODAY, "Alabama high school football team has nine laterals on final play for game-winning TD," 12 Sep. 2020 Quarterback Ryan Tannehill connected with Kenny Stills, who tossed the ball to DeVante Parker, who lateraled to Kenyan Drake, who ran 52 yards for the game-winning score, outrunning Rob Gronkowski en route to the end zone. Jim Reineking, USA TODAY, "Greatest trick plays in NFL history, from Philly Special to Dan Marino's fake spike," 1 Apr. 2020 Brady recovered and lateraled to Ben Watson, who sent it back to Edelman, who flung it back to Thuney., "Save for one play when Fitzpatrick recovered his own fumble, Miami passed the entire drive and the Patriots couldn’t stop it. The biggest play came just after the two-minute warning when," 31 Dec. 2019 The big guard lateraled to Mohamed Sanu, who shipped it back to White, who fumbled, ending the play., "Save for one play when Fitzpatrick recovered his own fumble, Miami passed the entire drive and the Patriots couldn’t stop it. The biggest play came just after the two-minute warning when," 31 Dec. 2019 Renfrow lateraled to tight end Marcell Ateman, who gained nine more yards. Ryan O’halloran, The Denver Post, "Rating The Broncos: Defense overcomes train-wreck play to survive Raiders’ comeback," 30 Dec. 2019 On the Ducks' final play, with one second left on the clock, Chris Miller throws a 15-yard pass to Kwante Hampton, who laterals to Ladaria Johnson. oregonlive, "Civil War football history: The Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers’ 122 meetings, game by game," 25 Nov. 2019 On the 49ers’ next drive, Garoppolo lateraled to wideout Deebo Samuel, who pitched the ball to Sanders, who tossed an off-his-back-foot pass under pressure to all-alone running back Raheem Mostert for a 35-yard touchdown. Eric Branch,, "49ers stand toe-to-toe with Saints, win 48-46 on last-second FG," 8 Dec. 2019 The Titans did some razzle-dazzle on the second score, with Madonna handing off to Ramsey, who lateraled it back, and Madonna saw Jordan Kwiatkowski uncovered for a 63-yard TD. Wright Wilson, Detroit Free Press, "Davison does what it does best, rallies to beat Stevenson in OT in Division 1 state football semi," 23 Nov. 2019

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


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1578, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1930, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for lateral

Adjective, Noun, and Verb

Middle English laterale, from Latin lateralis, from later-, latus side

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Time Traveler for lateral

Time Traveler

The first known use of lateral was in the 15th century

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Statistics for lateral

Last Updated

31 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Lateral.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for lateral



English Language Learners Definition of lateral

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: toward, on, or coming from the side



English Language Learners Definition of lateral (Entry 2 of 2)

American football : a pass thrown to the side or backward


lat·​er·​al | \ ˈla-tə-rəl How to pronounce lateral (audio) \

Kids Definition of lateral

: being on or directed toward the side lateral movement

Other Words from lateral

laterally adverb


lat·​er·​al | \ ˈlat-ə-rəl, ˈla-trəl How to pronounce lateral (audio) \

Medical Definition of lateral

: of or relating to the side especially, of a body part : lying at or extending toward the right or left side : lying away from the median axis of the body the lungs are lateral to the heart the lateral branch of the axillary artery

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