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

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 Careful strengthening of the entire trunk and lateral hip will be essential to prevent future injuries, although the thighs and hamstrings will also be important to bring balance in that area. Colin Hoobler, oregonlive, "Damian Lillard’s groin injury: How these injuries are treated, what kind of recovery timeline to expect," 13 Feb. 2020 This isn’t to say moving from Cincinnati to MSU is a lateral move. Shawn Windsor, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan State football suffering through a migraine of bad news," 11 Feb. 2020 Airbnb has described that change as a lateral move, not a demotion. Aric Jenkins, Fortune, "Airbnb brings in a Disney theme park hand to run ‘Experiences’ ahead of its IPO," 30 Jan. 2020 In its curriculum for middle and high school students, Common Sense uses a technique called lateral reading. Meghan Herbst, Wired, "How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids in the Digital Age," 27 Jan. 2020 The featured back made cuts, lateral moves and jump-steps that turned some seemingly negative runs into decent gains. Jason Hoffman,, "Guest TML: 10 things from Cincinnati Bengals' loss to Cleveland Browns in NFL Week 14," 9 Dec. 2019 Other research has shown that people are more intrigued by the possibilities of lateral moves than managers might assume. Lila Maclellan, Quartz at Work, "The surprisingly effective retention power of lateral career moves," 21 Nov. 2019 In lateral moves, Proxi and Parachute were dropped to make room for their sister properties, Sepia and Wherewithall. Phil Vettel,, "Chicago’s 50 best restaurants, according to critic Phil Vettel," 1 Nov. 2019 Offensive lineman Samuel Cosmi — who checks in at 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds — hauled in a lateral pass from quarterback Sam Ehlinger and ran for a 12-yard touchdown to put the Longhorns up 35-17 early in the fourth quarter. Creg Stephenson |, al, "Watch 300-pound Texas lineman score on 12-yard TD run vs. West Virginia," 5 Oct. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The Permian Basin of West Texas dominated the list with eight of the 10 longest laterals. Sergio Chapa, Houston Chronicle, "Drilling Down: The 10 longest horizontal wells in Texas," 16 Dec. 2019 As if that wasn’t wild enough, the Falcons then scored again on a fumble recovery by Olamide Zaccheaus on the ensuing kickoff in which the Niners attempted multiple laterals. Lorenzo Reyes, USA TODAY, "Falcons stun 49ers on Julio Jones' score in wild game-ending sequence," 16 Dec. 2019 Allen laterals right to McCaffrey, his pass short right intended for Hogan. oregonlive, "Seattle Seahawks hang on - again - to defeat the Carolina Panthers: Live updates recap, score, stats and more," 15 Dec. 2019 Max Borghi ran in the winning touchdown with two seconds to play, and after an unsuccessful series of laterals on the Beavers’ ensuing kickoff return, the celebration was on for the home team. oregonlive, "Pushed to brink in Pullman: Describe Oregon State’s loss at Washington State in 5 words or less," 24 Nov. 2019 It is expected that residents will each pay about $15,000 as their share of the project, plus a portion of the $5,000 per property that is residents’ responsibility to connect the sanitary sewers with their laterals., "Gates Mills Blvd. sewer project to put dent in Pepper Pike residents’ bank accounts," 18 July 2019 Pickett hit a wide-open Aaron Mathews for a 43-yard score after a pair of laterals to give Pitt a 10-3 lead late in the first quarter. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Pitt beats Syracuse 27-20; defense racks up 9 sacks," 18 Oct. 2019 Last-gasp laterals sometimes work for the home team there., "PREDICTION, OR DO YOU THINK DAN MARINO STILL GIVES HIS RECEIVERS ISOTONER GLOVES FOR CHRISTMAS?," 14 Sep. 2019 While all sanitary sewer work is complete on Hillside Road, the installation of sanitary sewer laterals remains. John Benson,, "Seven Hills’ orange barrel season continues with septic conversions, new road project," 19 July 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb 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 Rodriguez first tackled one ball-carrier, who lateraled it, then sniffed out another ball-carrier who coughed it up, and finally another. Hayes Gardner, The Courier-Journal, "Kentucky football's Chris Rodriguez emerges as a 'game-changer' in loss to Tennessee," 11 Nov. 2019 Rather than attempt a Hail Mary from the Indiana 45, the Wildcats had Hunter Johnson fire 15 yards to Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman, who lateraled to Riley Lees, who fired backward to Johnson. Teddy Greenstein,, "5 takeaways from Northwestern’s brutal 34-3 loss to Indiana, featuring an offense that was as hopeless as ever," 1 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

19 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Lateral.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for lateral


How to pronounce lateral (audio)

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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