parameter

noun

pa·​ram·​e·​ter pə-ˈra-mə-tər How to pronounce parameter (audio)
1
a
: 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 fiction
The investigation stayed within the parameters set by the court.
parametric adjective
parametrically adverb

Did you know?

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 The organization makes its selection of best senior living facilities based on a number of parameters, including reviews from residents and their families, state licensing data and news alerts, Marlena del Hierro said. Lauren J. Mapp, San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 Apr. 2024 The parameters and instruments are pre-assigned to all possible data values the telescope could pick up. Aaron Boorstein, Smithsonian Magazine, 3 Apr. 2024 The goal was to land on a wide range of offerings, but there were parameters: To qualify, each piece was required to have been fabricated, even if just as a prototype, within the past 100 years. Evan Moffitt, New York Times, 28 Mar. 2024 With 70 billion parameters, Llama 2 is an order of magnitude larger. IEEE Spectrum, 27 Mar. 2024 That might mean generating a three-dimensional video by simply speaking to a computer, relying on models that are have as many as 1 trillion parameters. Ian King, Fortune, 18 Mar. 2024 The world’s first major set of regulatory rules to govern artificial intelligence, the AI Act provides a legal framework for the development and use of artificial intelligence within Europe, calling for greater transparency as well as setting parameters for high-risk AI. Elsa Keslassy, Variety, 13 Mar. 2024 But in 2024, do those stuffier parameters—which celebrate beauty above all else—still constitute what makes costuming great? Liam Hess, Vogue, 8 Mar. 2024 In total, Nvidia says one of these racks can support a 27-trillion parameter model. Sean Hollister, The Verge, 18 Mar. 2024

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

Word History

Etymology

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

First Known Use

1833, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of parameter was in 1833

Dictionary Entries Near parameter

Cite this Entry

“Parameter.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/parameter. Accessed 14 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition

parameter

noun
pa·​ram·​e·​ter pə-ˈram-ət-ər How to pronounce parameter (audio)
1
: an independent variable used to express the coordinates of a point
if the coordinates (x, y) of a point are given by the functions x = f(t) and y = g(t) then the parameter is the variable t
2
: any of a set of properties whose values determine the characteristics or behavior of something
parameters of the atmosphere such as temperature, pressure, and density
parametric adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on parameter

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