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 Google has also enforced a temporary restriction on ad content that makes reference to the election. Sarah Ewall-wice And Eleanor Watson, CBS News, "Candidates fear Georgia Senate runoffs could be hampered by digital political ad bans," 12 Nov. 2020 Food Network star Alton Brown has apologized after making a reference to the Holocaust on social media Tuesday night. David Oliver, USA TODAY, "Food Network star Alton Brown apologizes for Holocaust tweet: 'In poor taste'," 11 Nov. 2020 There are many pleasing nods to the classic children's stories — like a crocodile hanging on a wall in Captain James’ (David Gyasi) office, a reference to the croc who ate Captain Hook in Peter Pan. Elizabeth Montgomery, The Arizona Republic, "'Come Away' dreams up origin stories for Peter Pan and Alice. But here's why it's a snooze," 10 Nov. 2020 While antithetical to the popular image of the founding father, that reference has reinforced the view held by a growing cadre of historians that Hamilton did actively engage in enslaving people. David Kindy, Smithsonian Magazine, "New Research Suggests Alexander Hamilton Was a Slave Owner," 10 Nov. 2020 After making reference to the fact that the dead will be voting for Milvin (the electoral fix is in!), Josto taunts his future father-in-law by mimicking a blowjob. Nick Schager,, "Fargo recap: How low can you go?," 9 Nov. 2020 Its first reference dates to an 1867 review of a vaudeville show published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune – and the term has a surprisingly controversial history. Roger J. Kreuz, The Conversation, "The complicated origin of the expression ‘peanut gallery’," 9 Nov. 2020 Trump responded by tweeting a reference to Section 230, the obscure, decades-old law that shapes content moderation on social media. Brian Contreras, Los Angeles Times, "As the Trump era comes to an end, what happens to Big Tech?," 8 Nov. 2020 This was a reference to a Tuscaloosa News headline following the Crimson Tide’s 42-14 win over the Fighting Irish in the 2013 BCS Championship Game. Matt Wake |, al, "Alabama-related ’Jeopardy!’ clues from over the years," 8 Nov. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The access could help OFAC cross-reference information with other investigators, including those in the U.S. intelligence community, said Mr. Lorber, a former senior adviser to the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. Jack Hagel, WSJ, "Treasury and Delaware Sign Pact to Boost Sanctions Enforcement," 7 Sep. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb An alleged copy of the letter, posted on the website Gateway Pundit, accused Big League Politics of violating Michigan law, but as constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley pointed out, did not reference a specific penal code. Andrew Mark Miller, Washington Examiner, "Michigan attorney general sends cease and desist letter demanding website remove voter fraud allegation videos," 12 Nov. 2020 The school did not directly reference the students on the field following the game, but said that there is a zero tolerance policy for any gatherings, on or off campus, that do not comply with the school's health and safety guidelines. Allen Kim, CNN, "Notre Dame orders Covid-19 testing for students after fans rushed the field to celebrate a football win," 9 Nov. 2020 Court documents also reference conversations in emails and on social media accounts associated with the Portable Wall Hanger business that appear to be coded references to installing and troubleshooting drop-in auto sears. Andy Greenberg, Wired, "The FBI Says ‘Boogaloo’ Extremists Bought 3D-Printed Machine Gun Parts," 4 Nov. 2020 The reformer’s views on segregation are difficult to pin down, as no historical records explicitly reference her stances. Theresa Machemer, Smithsonian Magazine, "Kentucky State Capitol Will Unveil Its First Statue Honoring a Woman," 20 Aug. 2020 The study worries public health experts, who reference previous research highlighting health inequities among vulnerable communities impacted most by the coronavirus pandemic. Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY, "Many Americans may not comprehend COVID-19 information as agencies fail to meet health literacy guidelines, study says," 18 Aug. 2020 The president made a point to reference John Ratcliffe, the former Texas congressman who serves as his Director of National Intelligence. Tom Benning, Dallas News, "‘Will you remember that Texas?’: Key moments from the final Biden-Trump presidential debate," 23 Oct. 2020 Other recent Supreme Court nominees have used multiple notebooks to reference during their confirmation hearings, but hers was blank. Ashley Shaffer, USA TODAY, "The kidnapping plot thickens," 13 Oct. 2020 Sundance has prepared a short list of links to Machoian’s past work (about 25 minutes in total), which Machoian will reference during the workshop. Sean P. Means, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Utah filmmaker will lead online Sundance Institute workshop on making movies outside Hollywood," 18 Sep. 2020

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

17 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Reference.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Nov. 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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