tan·​gent | \ ˈtan-jənt How to pronounce tangent (audio) \

Definition of tangent

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : an abrupt change of course : digression the speaker went off on a tangent
2a : the trigonometric function that for an acute angle is the ratio between the leg opposite to the angle when it is considered part of a right triangle and the leg adjacent
b : a trigonometric function that is equal to the sine divided by the cosine for all real numbers θ for which the cosine is not equal to zero and is exactly equal to the tangent of an angle of measure θ in radians
3 : a line that is tangent specifically : a straight line that is the limiting position of a secant of a curve through a fixed point and a variable point on the curve as the variable point approaches the fixed point
4 : a small upright flat-ended metal pin at the inner end of a clavichord key that strikes the string to produce the tone



Definition of tangent (Entry 2 of 2)

1a : meeting a curve or surface in a single point if a sufficiently small interval is considered straight line tangent to a curve
b(1) : having a common tangent line at a point tangent curves
(2) : having a common tangent plane at a point tangent surfaces
2 : diverging from an original purpose or course : irrelevant tangent remarks

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Synonyms for tangent

Synonyms: Noun

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Examples of tangent in a Sentence

Noun in the middle of her description of her dog's symptoms, she went off on a tangent about its cute behavior
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun In technical terms, the grade of a road is its vertical location with respect to the ground surface, measured typically via the tangent of the angle of that surface to the horizontal. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 17 Apr. 2021 Hoffman then devised an exact integral solution for the spaces between the tangent and the curve to determine the total grazing area. Quanta Magazine, 9 Dec. 2020 In another narrative tangent, Val’s 8-year-old son, Victor Jr., is a precocious chef. Dwight Garner, New York Times, 1 Feb. 2021 The bull can graze on a semicircle of area πL2/2 bounded by the tangent. Quanta Magazine, 9 Dec. 2020 Trump asked while segueing into a tangent about NBA television ratings at a rally in Avoca, Pennsylvania. Lorenzo Reyes, USA TODAY, 2 Nov. 2020 Haeck said that although Biden didn’t use the perfect vocabulary in his response, and went on a bit of an unrelated tangent about driving to a swimming pool with his dad, she was touched by his kindness. Samantha Schmidt, Washington Post, 29 Oct. 2020 In a scene that feels shoehorned in for exposition, and to attempt to give the dead-wife character a whiff of personality, Nolan meets with his former boss, who goes on a dreamy tangent about what a wonderful features writer his wife had been. Kate Knibbs, Wired, 6 Oct. 2020 Writing energetically in the first person, Roberts roams freely from one tangent to another. Peter Tonguette, The Christian Science Monitor, 24 Aug. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Jason Braglia, New Lenox Community Park District’s deputy director of recreation, said officials were unsure when large gatherings would be allowed, as well as what tangent COVID-19 cases might take in the coming months. Robert Mccoppin, chicagotribune.com, 27 Apr. 2021 All of this leads back to a tangent Smith went on in the middle of describing his experience at that ’98 Final Four. Josh Newman, The Salt Lake Tribune, 10 Apr. 2021 The answer involves thinking about tangent lines, geometric constraints and the bicycle’s steering mechanism. George Hart, Scientific American, 23 Apr. 2013 Amid Prince’s vocals, keyboard chords, distorted lead guitar and a chatty bass guitar, Davis wedged in his recognizable chromatic sprints and tangent harmonies. Jon Pareles, New York Times, 24 Sep. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tangent.' 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 tangent


1594, in the meaning defined at sense 2a


1594, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for tangent


New Latin tangent-, tangens, from linea tangens tangent line


Latin tangent-, tangens, present participle of tangere to touch; perhaps akin to Old English thaccian to touch gently, stroke

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Time Traveler for tangent

Time Traveler

The first known use of tangent was in 1594

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Statistics for tangent

Last Updated

24 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Tangent.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tangent. Accessed 23 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for tangent



English Language Learners Definition of tangent

geometry : a line that touches a sphere or circle at only one point


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