ref·​er·​ent ˈre-f(ə-)rənt How to pronounce referent (audio)
: one that refers or is referred to
especially : the thing that a symbol (such as a word or sign) stands for
referent adjective

Examples of referent in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Just to use a word is to acknowledge the absence of its referent, as though language itself makes loss our theme and medium. Matthew Gavin Frank, Harper's Magazine, 21 June 2023 Its originators wanted to escape their subservience to real-world referents and let shape and color act as a language all their own, like musical notes. Sebastian Smee, Washington Post, 5 May 2023 Academics and conceptual artists quivered with excitement after the news broke—referent, context, appropriation, etc. Hernan Diaz, Harper’s Magazine , 10 Feb. 2023 Like most graphical widgets, tabs are metaphors whose referent has been largely forgotten. Meghan O'Gieblyn, WIRED, 28 Mar. 2023 To sum it up in one sentence: the original writing systems began with mostly pictorial characters that resembled their referent, and over time became more efficient and abstract, including a greater number of signs that represented sounds and semantic information. Bridget Alex, Discover Magazine, 2 Jan. 2019 Here, from a twenty-three-year-old, was a new tone in the language, a different way of saying, pushing back against expectations of rhythm and syntax and referent. Nick Laird, The New York Review of Books, 16 Mar. 2023 Of course, the typical symbolic referent for the Stranger is Death or Change or God — those pesky, perennial, uninvited guests. Helen Shaw, Vulture, 23 June 2022 The image is suggestive, a signifier without a referent. Lauren Michele Jackson, The New Yorker, 29 Oct. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'referent.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin referent-, referens, present participle of referre

First Known Use

1844, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of referent was in 1844

Dictionary Entries Near referent

Cite this Entry

“Referent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


ref·​er·​ent ˈref-(ə-)rənt How to pronounce referent (audio)
: something that refers or is referred to
especially : the thing a word represents
referent adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on referent

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