ma·​tri·​lin·​eal ˌma-trə-ˈli-nē-əl How to pronounce matrilineal (audio)
: relating to, based on, or tracing descent through the maternal line
matrilineal society
matrilineally adverb

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A person's lineage is his or her line of ancestors. So matrilineal means basically "through the mother's line", just as patrilineal means "through the father's line". Matrilineality is an important concept in anthropology; among other things, it usually determines who will inherit property on a person's death. Though families that follow the European model take the father's name and are therefore patrilineal, matrilineal societies have existed around the world, including among various American Indian tribes.

Examples of matrilineal in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web But in all the nation's imperial history, there has never been a single emperor or empress from the matrilineal line, said Japan Today. Harriet Marsden, The Week Uk, theweek, 1 May 2024 Killer whales move around in matrilineal units, a mother with up to four generations of descendants. Tomas Weber, Rolling Stone, 18 May 2024 The genetic material, which is inherited from mothers, could help researchers learn more about trade routes, human migration and matrilineal lineages. Mary Hudetz, ProPublica, 20 July 2023 Simpson, who was born and raised and still lives and works in Santa Clara Pueblo, N.M., comes from a long matrilineal line of ceramists—as in, 70 generations. Julie Belcove, Robb Report, 24 Feb. 2024 See all Example Sentences for matrilineal 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'matrilineal.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1904, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of matrilineal was in 1904

Dictionary Entries Near matrilineal

Cite this Entry

“Matrilineal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jul. 2024.

Medical Definition


ma·​tri·​lin·​eal ˌma-trə-ˈlin-ē-əl How to pronounce matrilineal (audio) ˌmā- How to pronounce matrilineal (audio)
: relating to, based on, or tracing descent through the maternal line
a matrilineal society
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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