ref·​er·​ent | \ ˈre-f(ə-)rənt How to pronounce referent (audio) \

Definition of referent

: one that refers or is referred to especially : the thing that a symbol (such as a word or sign) stands for

Other Words from referent

referent adjective

Examples of referent in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web As the series builds, one suspicion is that the real referent of its title is to a rational mindset born of the Enlightenment buoyed by scientific progress which, until very recently was held to be the answer to everyone’s problems. John Hopewell, Variety, 27 June 2022 Atop the frame balance an apple and one of Crivelli’s mysterious green vegetables, which looks like an emoji for which the referent has been forgotten. Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, 9 June 2022 Nyerere even made the term Swahili a referent to Tanzanian citizenship. John M. Mugane, Quartz, 5 Apr. 2022 The other half is constructed with the memories, longing, referents, et cetera, of the readers’ lives. Kathleen Rooney,, 8 Oct. 2019 Even Robert De Niro is here, a direct referent to Scorsese-land, as Murray Franklin, the genially corrupt host of the late-night talk show that Arthur watches with his shut-in mother (Frances Conroy) and dreams of appearing on., 3 Oct. 2019 And there needs to be a clearer referent in the present. Chris Jones,, 4 June 2019 There are hundreds of millions of people who understand this tweet, and understood its referents on every other social platform in 2018. Kaitlyn Tiffany, Vox, 20 Dec. 2018 Framing is an opportunity to break the tremendous power of the image in relation to its referent. Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader, 16 Apr. 2018 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'referent.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of referent

1844, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for referent

Latin referent-, referens, present participle of referre

Learn More About referent

Time Traveler for referent

Time Traveler

The first known use of referent was in 1844

See more words from the same year

Dictionary Entries Near referent




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for referent

Last Updated

1 Jul 2022

Cite this Entry

“Referent.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Jul. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More from Merriam-Webster on referent

Britannica English: Translation of referent for Arabic Speakers


Test Your Vocabulary

Which Word Does Not Belong?

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!