ref·​er·​ence | \ ˈre-fərn(t)s How to pronounce reference (audio) , ˈre-f(ə-)rən(t)s\

Definition of reference

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : the act of referring or consulting
2 : a bearing on a matter : relation in reference to your recent letter
3 : something that refers: such as
b : something (such as a sign or indication) that refers a reader or consulter to another source of information (such as a book or passage)
c : consultation of sources of information
4 : one referred to or consulted: such as
a : a person to whom inquiries as to character or ability can be made
b : a statement of the qualifications of a person seeking employment or appointment given by someone familiar with the person
c(1) : a source of information (such as a book or passage) to which a reader or consulter is referred
(2) : a work (such as a dictionary or encyclopedia) containing useful facts or information



Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 3)

: used or usable for reference especially : constituting a standard for measuring or constructing


referenced; referencing

Definition of reference (Entry 3 of 3)

transitive verb

1a : to supply with references
b : to cite in or as a reference
2 : to put in a form (such as a table) adapted to easy reference

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Synonyms for reference

Synonyms: Noun

authority, source

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Examples of reference in a Sentence


references to an earlier event The numbers were calculated by reference to the most recent census. Reference to a map will make the position clear. She listed her former teacher as a reference when she applied for the job. Her former teacher gave her a reference when she applied for the job. Her teacher gave her a letter of reference.


a list of reference materials


The book references many other authors who have written on this topic.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Merriam-Webster has long been the largest dictionary and reference book company in the world, and the massive Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1961) is the direct descendant of Noah Webster’s mind and spirit. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Noah Webster’s American Revolution in language," 29 June 2019 Other state rules vary widely, from no regulations on packaging and advertising, to detailed prohibitions like those in Massachusetts against cartoons on the package or colloquial references to marijuana in a dispensary logo. Ryan Randazzo, azcentral, "10 things to look for in a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona," 29 June 2019 Any reference to the European budget should be confined to the money that the commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Valdis Dombrovskis, keeps on his person in a bougette, or leather purse. The Economist, "Europe heroically defends itself against veggie burgers," 28 June 2019 Most egregiously for many Sikhs, the inner sanctum, the Akal Takht was severely damaged, and the irreplaceable reference library was burned. Ali Kazimi, Quartz India, "A Canadian artist is keeping the embers of Sikh separatism alive with false equivalences," 27 June 2019 These are obviously references to Hogwarts’ Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Slytherin houses, respectively. Pomerado News, "REVIEW: ‘Puffs’ is magical fun for Harry Potter fans," 26 June 2019 Despite their reputation, users of sites such as 4chan are influential in how people communicate online, and a lot of that communication is via references and memes about Evangelion. Gene Park,, "Commentary: ‘Evangelion’ is finally on Netflix, and I don’t need a rewatch because the trauma lives on in me," 26 June 2019 Noether showed that the symmetries of general relativity — its invariance under transformations between different reference frames — ensure that energy is always conserved. Quanta Magazine, "The Simple Idea Behind Einstein’s Greatest Discoveries," 26 June 2019 The fake force allows a rotating reference frame to act like a stationary one. Rhett Allain, WIRED, "Physics Tricks to Make Steph Curry's Golf Show More Extreme," 25 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Several mothers and anti-vaccination advocates spoke out against vaccines during the public comment portion of the meeting, referencing concerns around vaccine safety and potential harms. Jacqueline Howard, CNN, "CDC panel recommends HPV vaccine for men through age 26 and for some older adults," 26 June 2019 In the video, posted to the Irondale Police Department’s Facebook page Tuesday night, the lyrics referencing a horse were changed to a goat. Howard Koplowitz |,, "Rescued goat sings backup vocals on Irondale officer’s ‘Old Town Road’ video," 25 June 2019 The letter references an April 16 letter from Kitka to the governor. Alex Demarban, Anchorage Daily News, "Alaska governor fires back at AFN over criticism of his budget," 23 June 2019 Here's what the latest development means: Over the last four years, the players referenced above have engaged in a variety of legal actions. Michael Mccann,, "What Mediation Means for U.S. Soccer, USWNT in Gender Discrimination Lawsuit," 21 June 2019 Dakari's older brother, referenced as Junior in the complaints, said he and Dakari were helping clean Jovonn's bedroom at the time of the incident. William Langhorne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Two Kenosha brothers charged in the fatal shooting of a 5-year-old boy," 20 June 2019 In truth, about 30 percent of the homes referenced here were new construction of units in senior housing or apartment complexes. James Briggs, Indianapolis Star, "11 times Mayor Joe Hogsett said misleading things about his blighted housing fix," 11 June 2019 Dispatchers were notified shortly before 7:10 a.m. that the school on Espola Road had received an email referencing a bomb on campus, Lt. Lyndsay Winkley, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Sheriff’s deputies investigating bomb threat received at Poway High School," 11 June 2019 By zipping guests to and from various planets and only glancingly referencing the human characters of Lucas’s saga, the ride also recognized that Star Wars appealed as much for setting as for story. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "The Star Wars Park Is a Space-Junk Fantasy," 5 June 2019

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


1579, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1856, in the meaning defined above


1876, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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Statistics for reference

Last Updated

3 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for reference

The first known use of reference was in 1579

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More Definitions for reference



English Language Learners Definition of reference

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: the act of mentioning something in speech or in writing : the act of referring to something or someone
: the act of looking at or in something for information
: a person who can be asked for information about another person's character, abilities, etc.



English Language Learners Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 3)

: used to find information about something
: used to tell people where information can be found



English Language Learners Definition of reference (Entry 3 of 3)

: to mention (something or someone) in speech or in writing : to refer to (something or someone)


ref·​er·​ence | \ ˈre-fə-rəns How to pronounce reference (audio) , ˈref-rəns\

Kids Definition of reference

1 : the act of looking at or in something for information Reference to a map will make our location clear.
2 : a relation to or concern with something I am writing in reference to your advertisement.
3 : the act or an instance of mentioning They made no references to my error.
4 : a work (as a dictionary) that contains useful information
5 : something that refers a reader to another source of information
6 : a person who can be asked for information about another person's character or ability
7 : a written statement about someone's character or ability


ref·​er·​ence | \ ˈref-(ə-)rən(t)s How to pronounce reference (audio) \

Medical Definition of reference

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: of known potency and used as a standard in the biological assay of a sample of the same drug of unknown strength a dose of reference cod-liver oil


Medical Definition of reference (Entry 2 of 2)

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ref·​er·​ence | \ ˈre-frəns, -fə-rəns How to pronounce reference (audio) \

Legal Definition of reference

1 : an act of referring specifically : mention or citation of one document (as a statute) in another a municipality may adopt by reference all or a part of this title Alaska Statutes — see also incorporate
2 : a referral especially to a legislative committee or master also : an order referring a matter to a master the extent to which any party is more responsible than other parties for the reference to a master Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 53(g)

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Comments on reference

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