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

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


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

The ship can go forward and reverse, but needs the tugs to make lateral movements. Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics, "America's New Energy Coast," 19 Mar. 2019 This high-knee lateral lunge combo will get your heart rate up and also challenge your glutes, hamstrings, and quads, says Mansour. Jenny Mccoy, SELF, "A Total-Body HIIT Workout You Can Do in Under 15 Minutes From Celebrity Trainer Jeanette Jenkins," 14 Mar. 2019 One win came at home against New England, when the Dolphins scored a miraculous touchdown with a pass and double lateral on the final play. Steven Wine, The Seattle Times, "‘Whirlwind’: Flores goes from Super Bowl champs to Dolphins," 4 Feb. 2019 Supportive athletic shoes are also recommended, and it’s especially great if they are designed for lateral movements rather than just running (ask your local shoe store about these types of options, known as cross-trainers). SELF, "13 Things to Know Before Signing Up for Your First HIIT Workout Class," 3 Jan. 2019 One of my colleague Louis Riddick's favorite players in the draft, Chubb has terrific lateral agility as a runner and just crushed the combine (4.52 40, 38-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 8-inch broad jump). Scott Patsko,, "Browns draft 2018: Grades and reaction from national media," 29 Apr. 2018 The driver edged into the tunnel where lateral wheels affixed to the SUV’s front wheels bumped against the tunnel’s walls. Tim Higgins, WSJ, "Inside Elon Musk’s Tunnel to Alleviate ‘Soul-Destroying’ Traffic," 19 Dec. 2018 The tiny 6 1/2 -foot wide street has been dug up more than a dozen times within five years as 12 out of 30 lateral sewer lines have failed and been replaced, some twice. Claudia Vargas,, "'Nightmare on Monroe Street': A tiny Queen Village block's six-year feud with the Philly Water Department," 6 July 2018 In this, he’s being overseen by Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), who made a lateral move into the IMF, and working in concert with a CIA agent named August Walker (Henry Cavill), in a mission directed by Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett). Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "Mission: Impossible — Fallout is the most entertaining blockbuster of the summer," 17 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Fixing sewer laterals costs anywhere from a few thousand dollars to more than $10,000, depending on the length of pipe needed. Claudia Vargas,, "'Nightmare on Monroe Street': A tiny Queen Village block's six-year feud with the Philly Water Department," 6 July 2018 Some of the laterals might still be the clay originals. Claudia Vargas,, "'Nightmare on Monroe Street': A tiny Queen Village block's six-year feud with the Philly Water Department," 6 July 2018 Digging up streets to install sewer laterals, which lead from the sewer main to individual homes. Bob Sandrick,, "Cost of Strongsville sanitary sewer project rises by 24 percent," 30 Apr. 2018 The first crop will form on shoots directly from these arms; future crops will form on shoots from laterals off these arms. The Editors Of Organic Life, Good Housekeeping, "How To Grow Your Own Kiwis In Your Backyard," 6 Feb. 2018 The assets being sold do not include the customer service laterals that run from the curb to each customer’s homes, or any interior plumbing in homes. Andrew Maykuth,, "Pa. American buys Chesco sewer system for $9.25M," 2 May 2018 Mikula said that laterals usually are installed through bores or holes drilled in the road. Bob Sandrick,, "Cost of Strongsville sanitary sewer project rises by 24 percent," 30 Apr. 2018 Together, the two laterals pushed overall footage at the well, called CD5-25, to a little over eight miles, at 42,993 feet, the company said. Alex Demarban, Anchorage Daily News, "ConocoPhillips claims North American record for horizontal drilling," 23 Apr. 2018 Health experts acknowledge the city did little to replace lead laterals and to encourage the use of water filters before 2016. Daniel Bice, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Paint industry accused of trying to create diversion over lead poisoning in Milwaukee," 9 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

There was a play where a guy purposely lateraled past the line of scrimmage. Jason Gay, WSJ, "Would You Watch Football Without All the Violence?," 21 Nov. 2018 Grugier-Hill didn’t bite on an option play in which Foles lateraled to Wallace and the receiver heaved a deep pass to running back Matt Jones. Jeff Mclane,, "Eagles practice observations: Jalen Mills locks down; Nelson Agholor explodes; Dallas Goedert catches on," 13 June 2018 Hayward pitched the ball off to Miami’s Reshad Jones, who then lateraled it to Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey for a return of 23 yards. J.c. Carnahan,, "AFC prevails in Pro Bowl on Delanie Walker's late TD catch," 29 Jan. 2018 Wilson tossed the ball to the running back J.D. McKissic, who then lateraled the ball back across the field to Wilson, who launched a 38-yard pass down the field. Tim Rohan,, "Seahawks Find Their Groove in Second Half and Take Down Giants 24–7," 22 Oct. 2017 Quarterback Jared Goff completed a short pass to receiver Pharoh Cooper, who lateraled the ball to Tavon Austin. Gary Klein,, "Eagles 14, Rams 7: Carson Wentz throws 20-yard touchdown pass to Trey Burton," 10 Dec. 2017 The Chiefs won the toss and promptly threatened again when lineman Buck Buchanan lateraled Yepremian's short kick to Podolak, who returned to his 46. By Bob Rubin, miamiherald, "When Christmas dinner was delayed as the Miami Dolphins played on and on," 19 Dec. 2016 The Skins threw a screen pass and started desperately lateraling the ball all over the field. Dan Gartland,, "A Meaningless Chiefs Touchdown Screwed Gamblers in Two Ways," 3 Oct. 2017 Cozart lateraled to Wilson, then slipped past his right tackle and right up the middle for a wide-open catch. Dave Southorn And Rachel Roberts, idahostatesman, "Boise State quarterbacks Rypien, Cozart catch passes | Idaho Statesman," 4 Nov. 2017

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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Statistics for lateral

Last Updated

2 Apr 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for lateral

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

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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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