mo·​di·​cum ˈmä-di-kəm How to pronounce modicum (audio)
 also  ˈmō-
: a small portion : a limited quantity
had only a modicum of mathematical skills

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The Origins of Modicum Can Be Found in the Bathroom

What does modicum have to do with a toilet? It just so happens that modicum shares the same Latin parent as commode, which is a synonym of toilet. Modicum and commode ultimately derive from the Latin noun modus, which means "measure." (We borrowed the noun commode from the French, who also used the word as an adjective meaning "suitable, convenient.") Modicum, which, logically enough, refers to a small "measure" of something, has been a part of the English language since the 15th century. It descends from the Latin modicus ("moderate"), which is itself a descendant of modus. Modus really measures up as a Latin root—it also gave us mode (originally a kind of musical "measure"), modal, model, modern, modify, and modulate. More distant relatives include mete, moderate, and modest.

Example Sentences

only a modicum of skill is necessary to put the kit together
Recent Examples on the Web The list of forsaken attributes also included attractive styling, good driver ergonomics, and the barest modicum of handling prowess. Dan Edmunds, Car and Driver, 14 Dec. 2022 Preparing for the worst is helping some wrest a feeling of control — and, sometimes, even eke out a modicum of joy — in an otherwise chaotic and frightening time. Dallas News, 4 Aug. 2022 The yanking away of any expectation that a person trying to end a pregnancy should be able to do with a modicum of privacy or grace. Monica Hesse, Washington Post, 8 Apr. 2023 Others on the right make a more sweeping and complicated claim, insisting that the call for a modicum of permissiveness in protesting the Supreme Court justices is just the latest example of double standards — with the left expecting a pass for lawbreaking. Damon Linker, The Week, 13 May 2022 There are two types of people in Portis: those who walk their roads with a modicum of decency, like Mattie, and those who travel with gangs, cheating and lying (often to one another) for money, such as Chaney and his outlaw honcho, Lucky Ned Pepper. Scott Bradfield, The New Republic, 7 Apr. 2023 The business enjoyed a modicum of success and inspired a larger purpose in travel. Roger Sands, Forbes, 1 Apr. 2023 Perhaps the addition of Augustin can make a modicum of a difference down the stretch. Michael Shapiro, Chron, 22 Mar. 2023 Miller has been the subject of opposing boos all year, earning a modicum of respect in a way. Nick Alvarez |, al, 13 Mar. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Middle English, from Latin, neuter of modicus moderate, from modus measure

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of modicum was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near modicum

Cite this Entry

“Modicum.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Jun. 2023.

Kids Definition


mo·​di·​cum ˈmäd-i-kəm How to pronounce modicum (audio)
: a small amount
anyone with a modicum of intelligence would understand

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