parameter

noun
pa·​ram·​e·​ter | \ pə-ˈra-mə-tər How to pronounce parameter (audio) \

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.

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from parameter

parametric \ ˌper-​ə-​ˈme-​trik How to pronounce parametric (audio) , ˌpa-​rə-​ \ adjective
parametrically \ ˌper-​ə-​ˈme-​tri-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce parametrically (audio) , 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

Start the conversation, and set parameters around what others can share about your family. Stacey Steinberg, Washington Post, "The online privacy checklist your kids need you to have," 9 Sep. 2019 The initiative group’s proposed changes to state law would set basic parameters for the state to ensure that schools can provide appropriate class-sizes, teacher workloads and teacher pay, among other things, to support classroom learning. Alex Demarban, Anchorage Daily News, "Initiative group forms to boost educational support and performance in Alaska," 3 Aug. 2019 Set clear parameters for high-risk actions All this is not to say that the protest movement did not take risks. Kevin Yam, Quartz, "Why Hong Kong’s protests prove it deserves to be a global financial hub," 10 July 2019 The issue was first brought to Facebook's attention on Sept. 29, 2015, by a political partner who was curious about the parameters of the company's privacy policy. Dylan Byers, NBC News, "Newly released messages reveal when Facebook first knew about Cambridge Analytica breach," 23 Aug. 2019 The parameters of politics have changed completely. Manavi Kapur, Quartz India, "Getting trolled is a small price to pay to get information out of Kashmir, says activist Shehla Rashid," 22 Aug. 2019 The parameters of those new restrictions are also not clear. Josh Dawsey, Washington Post, "Trump administration to place new restrictions on billions in aid for Puerto Rico amid island’s political crisis," 1 Aug. 2019 The 76ers moved quickly to add Horford, once the parameters of the Butler trade to Miami were complete. Tim Reynolds, The Denver Post, "Lillard gets Supermax, and NBA spending spree begins," 30 June 2019 In the winter of 2015, the Diamondbacks and Leake were in agreement on the parameters of a free-agent deal, according to sources. Nick Piecoro, azcentral, "Mike Leake returns to Arizona after years of almost playing for Diamondbacks," 3 Aug. 2019

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about parameter

Statistics for parameter

Last Updated

12 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for parameter

The first known use of parameter was in 1833

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on parameter

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with parameter

Spanish Central: Translation of parameter

Nglish: Translation of parameter for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of parameter for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about parameter

Comments on parameter

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

WORD OF THE DAY

authorized for issue (as a bond)

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

The Exceptions Quiz III

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!