os·​cil·​late | \ˈä-sə-ˌlāt \
oscillated; oscillating

Definition of oscillate 

intransitive verb

1a : to swing backward and forward like a pendulum The fan was oscillating.

b : to move or travel back and forth between two points he oscillates regularly between his comfortable home … and his downtown office-laboratory— Gladwin Hill

2 : to vary between opposing beliefs, feelings, or theories The mood of the voters has oscillated between optimism and pessimism.

3 : to vary above and below a mean value Bank rate oscillates between 2 and 6 percent.

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Other Words from oscillate

oscillatory \ ˈä-​sə-​lə-​ˌtȯr-​ē \ adjective

Choose the Right Synonym for oscillate

swing, sway, oscillate, vibrate, fluctuate, waver, undulate mean to move from one direction to its opposite. swing implies a movement of something attached at one end or one side. the door suddenly swung open sway implies a slow swinging or teetering movement. trees swaying in the breeze oscillate stresses a usually regular alternation of direction. an oscillating fan vibrate suggests the rapid oscillation of an elastic body under stress or impact. the vibrating strings of a piano fluctuate suggests constant irregular changes of level, intensity, or value. fluctuating interest rates waver stresses irregular motion suggestive of reeling or tottering. the exhausted runner wavered before collapsing undulate suggests a gentle wavelike motion. an undulating sea of grass

Examples of oscillate in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

The incumbent, President Michel Temer, whose popularity has oscillated in the single digits for much of his tenure, has decided not to run. New York Times, "Mexico Delivers Another Defeat to the Status Quo in Latin America," 2 July 2018 The creation of that water column also produces a small bubble under the water column which oscillates 5,000 times a second. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "The Physics Behind a Leaky Faucet’s Maddening ‘Plink’," 25 June 2018 Instead, the bubble will oscillate a bit and settle at a radius such that the internal pressure and external pressure are equal. Chris Lee, Ars Technica, "Cavitation dilemma resolved in knuckle-cracking model," 5 Apr. 2018 This would give an additional path by which muon neutrinos produced in the decays could oscillate into electron neutrinos, having spent a short bit of time as sterile neutrinos in between. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "Weird neutrino excess won’t go away, hints at new physics," 8 June 2018 The bubble oscillates 5,000 times in a second, which makes the water vibrate and generate the iconic, annoying tone. Sarah Gibbens, National Geographic, "Here’s What Makes a Dripping Faucet Go ‘Plink’," 22 June 2018 These atoms are engineered to emit light waves that oscillate at a constant several billion times a second. Sophia Chen, WIRED, "These Physicists Watched a Clock Tick for 14 Years Straight," 4 June 2018 In a book that otherwise oscillates between anger and pessimism, there is a single ray of hope: Brexit. The Economist, "Brexit is reverberating in British literature," 5 July 2018 Since then, the device has oscillated between being available with a ship date of July 20 and being available for store pickup only. Jeff Dunn, Ars Technica, "Dealmaster: The NES Classic comes back tonight—here’s where to get one [Updated]," 29 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'oscillate.' 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 oscillate

1726, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for oscillate

Latin oscillatus, past participle of oscillare to swing, from oscillum swing

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Statistics for oscillate

Last Updated

6 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for oscillate

The first known use of oscillate was in 1726

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More Definitions for oscillate



English Language Learners Definition of oscillate

: to move in one direction and then back again many times

: to keep changing from one belief, feeling, condition, etc., to an opposite one

: to change in strength or direction regularly


os·​cil·​late | \ˈä-sə-ˌlāt \
oscillated; oscillating

Kids Definition of oscillate

: to swing or move back and forth between two points


intransitive verb
os·​cil·​late | \ˈäs-ə-ˌlāt \
oscillated; oscillating

Medical Definition of oscillate 

1 : to swing backward and forward like a pendulum

2 : to move or travel back and forth between two points

Other Words from oscillate

oscillatory \ ˈäs-​ə-​lə-​ˌtōr-​ē, -​ˌtȯr-​ \ adjective

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Comments on oscillate

What made you want to look up oscillate? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


something that serves to warn or remind

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