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 Jeff Sessions Gump Cold Open | March 4, 2017 | Host: Octavia Spencer This cold open delivered a trifecta of Alabama references. Ben Flanagan |, al, "Watch every ‘SNL’ sketch with Jeff Sessions," 8 Nov. 2019 But there aren't a lot of references for two strong women in the same space, right? Alison Brower, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Morning Show': Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon on "Uncanny" Relevance in #MeToo Era and "Vampire Lives" of A.M. Anchors," 7 Nov. 2019 Asian Avenue was a popular social networking site targeted to Asian Americans, making the name a lighthearted reference to that while still a fitting label for the area. Alison Steinbach, azcentral, "Mesa looks to brand its growing Asian district. Here are the names being tossed around," 2 Nov. 2019 One of the earliest references to a hand kiss is from Homer's The Iliad, written in the 8th century. Carolyn Twersky, Seventeen, "What Does It Mean When Your Partner Kisses You on the Hand?," 30 Oct. 2019 In addition to the financial aspect, his oath of office references the Alaska and national constitutions, not state law. James Brooks, Anchorage Daily News, "Alaska senators claim attorney general is violating the state constitution over local-hire challenge," 30 Oct. 2019 Point of reference: Colorado’s roster last winter featured seven players who wound up accounting for 30 or more. Sean Keeler, The Denver Post, "How Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi and Nazem Kadri turned Avalanche into a tsunami," 27 Oct. 2019 Terra-cotta tiles in the same pattern as the glass wave wall line the elevators, a reference to the terra-cotta of Nordstrom’s landmark Seattle headquarters. Vanessa Lawrence, ELLE Decor, "Nordstrom Officially Opens The Doors to Their Manhattan Flagship," 24 Oct. 2019 There’s the Pattern, an app whose creepily accurate psychological and compatibility analyses are generated by birth charts but are delivered free of any astrological references. Christine Smallwood, The New Yorker, "Astrology in the Age of Uncertainty," 21 Oct. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The incident was originally referenced in a Department of Energy report in April, but only in vague terms. Wired, "Security News This Week: An Unprecedented Cyberattack Hit US Power Utilities," 7 Sep. 2019 The threat was referenced in two Facebook posts made by Paul James Moulton on Monday, according to the criminal complaint filed in Ramsey County District Court. Sarah Horner, Twin Cities, "Felony charge for St. Paul college student who made Facebook threat on first school day," 29 Aug. 2019 Packer’s book makes no mention of Mexico, while Cuba is only referenced in terms of the Missile Crisis of 1962. David Rieff, Harper's magazine, "An American in the Treetops," 19 Aug. 2019 Joyner stands out: Joyner’s sack of Murray was already referenced, but the slot/corner safety also showed sticky pass coverage skills in keeping with Larry Fitzgerald in the slot and played with passion and enthusiasm. Jerry Mcdonald, The Mercury News, "Eight takeaways from Raiders decisive win over Cardinals," 15 Aug. 2019 The entire quote is much longer in her book, but this is the portion that is usually referenced. Alexis Jones, Marie Claire, "Marianne Williamson Quotes You've Probably Used Without Realizing It," 22 July 2019 Equal pay dispute takes center stage The team’s ongoing fight with U.S. Soccer for equal pay was referenced often Wednesday, ranging from signs and chants during the parade to references to it during the City Hall ceremony. Pardeep Cattry, Pro Soccer USA, "USWNT star Megan Rapinoe endorses U.S. Soccer president, urges all to ‘be better’ during World Cup ceremony," 10 July 2019 Browse through the photos at the top of the page for a look at all the times Houston sports has been referenced in rap lyrics. Matt Young, Houston Chronicle, "Watch Z-Ro perform 'Mo City Freestyle' as he walks Jermall Charlo to ring," 30 June 2019 The one-and-done has been referenced repeatedly by league scouts and front-office personnel without prompting. J. Michael, Indianapolis Star, "Despite an unpredictable NBA Draft coming up, Pacers ready to pounce at No. 18," 17 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

20 Nov 2019

Time Traveler for reference

The first known use of reference was in 1579

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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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Comments on reference

What made you want to look up reference? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


strength of mind

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