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

Some signed a petition, others wrote essays and poems in Xu’s support, and one wrote a song: To anyone familiar with Chinese politics, the reference was clear: the anniversary of the June 4, 1989, crackdown on the Tiananmen protests. Ian Johnson, The New York Review of Books, "China’s ‘Black Week-end’," 17 June 2019 Historical information, necessarily, is not current and is provided for your reference only., "Terms of service," 17 June 2019 The dune on Mars is not the only Star Trek reference seen in space recently. Fox News, "Mysterious 'Star Trek logo' spotted on Mars by NASA," 15 June 2019 The sleek eyewear references an early 90’s style and the new collection also includes t-shirts and hoodies. Nandi Howard, Essence, "We Just Found Your Favorite Pair Of Summer Shades," 15 June 2019 The same is true of Thompson and Hemsworth, who periodically drop a fun riff or reference (as Hemsworth does in an early scene, comparing a gambling establishment to the orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut). Josh Spiegel, The Hollywood Reporter, "The Hidden Potential of 'Men in Black: International'," 15 June 2019 The balance between the sci-fi references and house tradition is what keeps things interesting, but designers can’t resist leaning into the source material’s nerd factor. Janelle Okwodu, Vogue, "The Force is With Etro’s New Star Wars Collection," 15 June 2019 There were also references to Jones giving her drugs and having her provide lap dances for tips. Eric Heisig,, "Cleveland man arrested in human trafficking probe sentenced for federal gun charge," 14 June 2019 The wealth of reference materials was only matched by the caring and knowledgeable staff that assisted me in my research. Letter Writers, Twin Cities, "Letters: A cougar is no surprise in factory farm country," 14 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

In an article in The Diplomat (February 2019), Goswami referenced Paul D. Spudis’s book The Value of the Moon. Jack H. Burke, National Review, "China’s New Wealth-Creation Scheme: Mining the Moon," 13 June 2019 Head coach Butch Thompson has referenced the position Auburn was in entering its final game of the regular season. Sam Blum |,, "Omaha Bound: Auburn crushes UNC, in 1st College World Series since 1997," 10 June 2019 The changes to cellphone use in the schools was also referenced by CEO Tony Sanders in his end-of-school-year message. Rafael Guerrero, Elgin Courier-News, "District U46 to ban cellphone use in class beginning in the fall," 6 June 2019 Cross reference our list of the ten best fall vacations with those flights. Laura Dannen Redman, Condé Nast Traveler, "JetBlue's Fall Sale Has $49 Flights," 20 Sep. 2018 In his public comments on the tariffs, however, the president rarely references this rationale, focusing instead on an economic argument for taking radical measures to reduce America’s trade deficit. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Slaps Steel and Aluminum Tariffs on the E.U., Canada, and Mexico," 31 May 2018 The palette was inspired by the colors in a Josef Albers work, I-S LXXI b: a deep, bittersweet chocolate for the living and dining rooms that also references the original wood paneling; and a saturated pink, like a strawberry, for the music room. Vanessa Lawrence, ELLE Decor, "Ken Fulk Brings a Contemporary Edge to the American Ambassador's Residence in Vienna," 27 May 2019 Stronger By Science, which is run by Greg Nuckols, has several in-depth guides of this type that themselves reference further studies. Casey Johnston, SELF, "Ask a Swole Woman: What Can I Do If I'm Bored of My Lifting Routine?," 24 Apr. 2019 The cast is dressed in looks from Fessahaye’s romantic new collection, which references Asia and Victoriana. Laird Borrelli-persson, Vogue, "Meet Selam Fessahaye, the Stylist and Designer Making Change on the Swedish Fashion Scene," 2 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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Statistics for reference

Last Updated

19 Jun 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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