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

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Examples of reference in a Sentence

Noun 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. Adjective a list of reference materials Verb The book references many other authors who have written on this topic.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Foster wrote in reference to his efforts to remove the memorial. Nicholas Rowan, Washington Examiner, "Activists prepare to storm DC in Independence Day weekend protests," 3 July 2020 The study also said commentators were about seven times more likely to talk about a darker-skinned player in reference to power, and three times more likely to talk about his speed. oregonlive, "European soccer announcers show racial bias in commentary: Report," 1 July 2020 Officers were called to Veterans Park in reference to a 15-year-old waiving a gun on June 24. Cheryl Higley, cleveland, "Man struck by alleged drunk driver: Avon Lake police blotter," 27 June 2020 Black men and women can use the racial slur in reference to each other. Jim Ayello, The Indianapolis Star, "Derek Daly secretly records Bob Lamey in effort to support Daly's lawsuits over use of a racial slur," 26 June 2020 Strand managing editor Andrew Gulli found a reference to the manuscript during an online search of Alcott’s archives, stored at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. Washington Post, "Early, rarely seen Alcott story published in Strand Magazine," 25 June 2020 Throughout their conversation, which is also summarized in the report, the men use the n-word repeatedly, in reference to recent arrestees and people outside the department. Hunter Ingram, USA TODAY, "Three North Carolina police officers fired for racist comments calling for 'slaughtering' Black people," 25 June 2020 Morales said police responded to the 2100 block of North 40th Street on Monday in reference to the report of the missing girls. Sophie Carson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Here's what we know about the chaos that unfolded Tuesday near a Washington Park home," 25 June 2020 Police were called to the scene in the 1200 block of Barker Drive in reference to a stabbing that occurred shortly after midnight on Monday. John Sharp |, al, "Grand jury to hear fatal stabbing case in Mobile," 24 June 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Cooper was charged under an existing false-report law that’s been long on the books and doesn’t reference race., "Phoenix police kill man in parked car, igniting new protests," 6 July 2020 Travelers can reference the map to determine if perhaps the next county is safer for a refuel or a rest stop. Cailey Rizzo, Travel + Leisure, "Find Out How Well Your County Is Containing COVID-19 With Real-time Map From Harvard," 2 July 2020 The plaintiffs made a new filing late Tuesday to reference the Montana decision that says states that subsidize private education cannot exclude religious private schools, Keller said in an email. Washington Post, "Maine, Vermont next in fight over aid to religious schools," 1 July 2020 McConnell did not reference the House GOP in his floor speech Monday but said nobody should be resisting masks because the country has not returned to normal, and the virus is still spreading. Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner, "In split with House GOP, McConnell urges mask usage," 29 June 2020 Cook tried calling and later sent a message to Bray that seemed to reference a cattle grazing agreement that Bray has with an Arizona ranch, the addendum said. Andrew Oxford, The Arizona Republic, "Witness in Rep. David Cook investigation says lawmaker sent threatening message," 29 June 2020 So, to all my fellow frustrated travelers, when dealing with an airline refund do not hesitate to pleasantly reference the DOT rules. The Washington Post, "Talk about Travel," 29 June 2020 During remote work check-ins, be sure to reference those goals by providing proof of your work. Kristine Gill, Fortune, "How to get promoted while working remotely," 26 June 2020 The Wednesday release did not reference the cease and desist order or conversion therapy. Sharon Coolidge, The Enquirer, "Therapist who violated Cincinnati's conversion therapy law no longer an NKU teacher," 11 Apr. 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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Time Traveler for reference

Time Traveler

The first known use of reference was in 1579

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Statistics for reference

Last Updated

8 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Reference.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for reference


How to pronounce reference (audio)

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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