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

In general, wheelchair tennis players use the same racquets, balls, and court parameters as non-wheelchair players, and the rules are also the same with one exception: Wheelchair athletes are allowed two bounces on their side of the court. Jenny Mccoy, SELF, "Paralympian Mackenzie Soldan Is Making History in Wheelchair Tennis," 17 Apr. 2019 The devices store key data, like flight parameters and cockpit voice recordings, which investigators will unlock and read to help them determine the cause of the crash. Matina Stevis-gridneff, WSJ, "Crashed Ethiopian Jet’s Black Boxes to Be Probed for Clues to 737 MAX’s Safety," 14 Mar. 2019 An unexpected number of bad weather days this past school year left some districts unable to squeeze their school year within the governor’s parameters. Talia Richman, baltimoresun.com, "Baltimore Teachers Union files grievance over potential loss of spring break days off," 15 June 2018 The Yankees, in particular, are regularly impacted by ESPN, which naturally maxes out their Sunday Night appearances - often creating more than an inconvenient travel situation, despite remaining within MLB's parameters. Pete Caldera, USA TODAY, "Yankees' ire about Sunday Night Baseball just one example of MLB's 'ridiculous' schedule," 4 June 2018 The amended budget sets even tighter parameters for negotiations between Mr. Cuomo and state legislators over the coming weeks. Jimmy Vielkind, WSJ, "Tax Shortfalls Widen New York’s Revenue Gap," 16 Feb. 2019 On its own, this model could take a wide variety of behaviors, depending on the values chosen for some of its parameters. John Timmer, Ars Technica, "Atoms may come apart as the Universe’s biggest stars explode," 24 Oct. 2018 Each of these 15 neurons has a weight parameter for each of its 784 inputs. Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, "How computers got shockingly good at recognizing images," 18 Dec. 2018 And Level 4 / 5 describes the top two levels of vehicle automation as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers: Level 4 is no human driver within certain parameters; and Level 5 is no human driver without restrictions. Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge, "Volkswagen, Intel, and Mobileye will launch a self-driving taxi service in Israel in 2019," 29 Oct. 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.

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

23 May 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

incapable of being surmounted or overcome

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Finance Words Quiz

  • a-piggy-bank
  • The etymology of mortgage is related most closely to which two words?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

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!