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 Previous research has identified at least 160 matrilineal populations that exist today. Eliza Anyangwe and Melissa Mahtani, CNN, 3 Aug. 2023 When no takers could be found in Japan, a five-alarm alert went up throughout the international community to save these members of the only group of primates whose behavior and matrilineal lines had been studied for over a decade. Carolyn Wells, Longreads, 26 July 2023 But that was hardly revelatory to people like Pasqual, who trace their roots through Chaco Canyon and sustain cultures that center matrilineal ties. Mary Hudetz, ProPublica, 20 July 2023 As in Prayers for the Stolen, Huezo is interested in matrilineal bonds and female strength and courage. Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter, 17 Feb. 2023 Women’s rights are matrilineal. Antonia Hitchens, The New Yorker, 4 Nov. 2022 Furthermore, their bloodline is matrilineal. Vulture, 4 Aug. 2022 For Lovette, who identifies closely with her matrilineal heritage, belonging to the Fulani tribe, the methods in question are things like yoni steaming for vaginal health, creating her own shea butter mixtures and face masks with natural ingredients, and a nostalgic, communal practice of hair care. Kaitlyn McNab, Allure, 17 Nov. 2021 Although part of a matrilineal tribe, the Navajo Nation Council has always been male-dominated, as has the executive branch. Arlyssa D. Becenti, The Arizona Republic, 11 Feb. 2023 See More

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 4 Oct. 2023.

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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