parameter

noun
pa·​ram·​e·​ter | \pə-ˈra-mə-tər \

Definition of parameter 

1a : an arbitrary constant whose value characterizes a member of a system (such as a family of curves) also : a quantity (such as a mean or variance) that describes a statistical population

b : an independent variable used to express the coordinates of a variable point and functions of them — compare parametric equation

2 : any of a set of physical properties whose values determine the characteristics or behavior of something parameters of the atmosphere such as temperature, pressure, and density

3 : something represented by a parameter : a characteristic element broadly : characteristic, element, factor political dissent as a parameter of modern life health care is a universal parameter, … a ubiquitous concern across every age, occupation, and class line. — Wayne Biddle

4 : limit, boundary usually used in plural the parameters of science fictionThe investigation stayed within the parameters set by the court.

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Other Words from parameter

parametric \ ˌper-​ə-​ˈme-​trik , ˌpa-​rə-​ \ adjective
parametrically \ ˌper-​ə-​ˈme-​tri-​k(ə-​)lē , ˌpa-​rə-​ \ adverb

Parameter vs. Perimeter

It's very easy to confuse parameter with perimeter. Not only do the two words sound the same, they both connote a boundary or limit.

When parameter is used to mean "a boundary or limit," it is usually in its plural form, and often as the object of a preposition such as within or beyond:

Let's face it, managing weight loss or maintenance can be trying enough within the parameters of a daily routine.
Geoff Kerr, Weight Watchers, November 1991

Though candor sometimes encourages Bruno to "stray beyond the parameters of good taste," his interaction with Lydia is always convincingly portrayed as a loving, tender relationship.
Ron Charles, The Washington Post, 8 Feb. 2011

In geometry, perimeter refers to the boundary of a closed plane figure. You might remember calculating perimeters in school. If each side of an equilateral triangle measures 9 feet, then the perimeter of the triangle measures 27 feet. In more general use, perimeter describes an outer stretch, as in "The college president lived in a house on the perimeter of the campus."

Parameter originally had a meaning pertaining to mathematics as well. The dictionary defines it as "an arbitrary constant whose value characterizes a member of a system (as a family of curves); also : a quantity (as a mean or variance) that describes a statistical population" as well as "an independent variable used to express the coordinates of a variable point and functions of them."

Some twentieth-century usage commentators objected to the use of a scientific-sounding word like parameter in general contexts (as in the examples above), especially to mean "a limit or boundary," theorizing that perimeter must have been what the speaker or writer intended.

However, perimeter was not often used in the phrasings that parameter is used in (that is, as the object of within or beyond) until much later. In fact, a word such as bounds or range or confines often serves as a more appropriate equivalent for parameter than the marginal connotations of perimeter:

But a true novel is an extended piece of fiction: Length is clearly one of its parameters.
Anthony Burgess, The New York Times Book Review, 5 Feb. 1984

Shields will then subsume that request in the overall City operating budget that he will recommend to the City Council in mid-March, and the Council will make its final decisions on the parameters of the budget, including any tax increases or cuts, by the end of April.
Nicholas F. Benton, The Falls Church News Press, 6 Jan. 2016

Examples of parameter in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

To find out why, a pair of astronomers ran a series of 1 million simulations of the asteroid’s orbit, each with slightly different parameters. Daniel Clery, Science | AAAS, "This asteroid came from another solar system—and it’s here to stay," 21 May 2018 The converted warehouse space featured foyers, doors and walls in place as clear parameters between the businesses. Wesley Case, baltimoresun.com, "Here's a look at what's in the works at Baltimore's Union Collective complex," 13 Mar. 2018 In fact, the correlation with severe winter weather was stronger with the Arctic warmth parameters used in the study than with the traditional Arctic Oscillation. Brandon Miller, CNN, "As the Arctic warms, nor'easters may get worse," 13 Mar. 2018 Bargains that will add essential quality and experience to his squad seems to be the parameters Benitez is working within. SI.com, "Newcastle Set to Break Their Transfer Record While Hammers Remain Keen on Toon Duo," 24 Jan. 2018 Most people are usually 10 years behind in terms of actually the state of the compliance and regulatory parameters. Recode Staff, Recode, "Full transcript: Box CEO Aaron Levie on Recode Decode," 11 July 2018 An apple-green glass guardrail on the balcony and three glass cubes used as outdoor lighting punctuate the rectilinear parameters with color. Nancy Keates, WSJ, "A Shoe Executive’s Long-Distance Run to His Oregon Abode," 11 July 2018 The Trump administration continues to negotiate parameters with North Korea. Salvador Rizzo, Washington Post, "Anatomy of a Trump rally: 76 percent of claims are false, misleading or lacking evidence," 10 July 2018 Researchers measured conventional semen parameters and molecular changes and found the group that ate nuts had improvements in their sperm count, vitality, motility and shape. Mari A. Schaefer, Philly.com, "Study: Nutrition in nuts may help boost sperm count," 10 July 2018

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

1833, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for parameter

New Latin, from para- + Greek metron measure — more at measure

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Statistics for parameter

Last Updated

24 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for parameter

The first known use of parameter was in 1833

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More Definitions for parameter

parameter

noun

English Language Learners Definition of parameter

: a rule or limit that controls what something is or how something should be done

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