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

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 While giving a speech at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards, Pratt famously went on a prolonged tangent about God, Jesus, and the power of prayer. Dani Di Placido, Forbes, 29 June 2022 Your pocket calculator does something similar—usually a combination of a look-up table and an approximation of a type to get you that value of tangent (34 degrees). Rhett Allain, Wired, 14 Mar. 2022 Trump began his tangent by talking about Rihanna’s recent pregnancy photos. Christy Piña, The Hollywood Reporter, 5 Mar. 2022 Monáe brings a carefree spirit to thoughtful conversation — happy to veer off on a tangent, deeply enmeshed in the issues raised by her high-concept work. Justin J Wee, Los Angeles Times, 21 Apr. 2022 Trump then went on a nonsensical tangent that even the Easter Bunny didn’t understand. Ilana Kaplan, Rolling Stone, 17 Apr. 2022 After going off on a tangent about comedian D.L. Hughley, West ended his Instagram activity Sunday by circling back to the TikTok issue. Daniel Kreps, Rolling Stone, 13 Mar. 2022 As a side tangent, there are ongoing efforts of combining the biology of living creatures with the technology of AI. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 7 Mar. 2022 Time for a brief tangent on the art and science of reality TV promo editing. Kristen Baldwin, EW.com, 1 Mar. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Austin’s former president then went on a tangent talking about Reese’s eggs, Cap’n Crunch and berries. Frank Pallotta, CNN, 17 Apr. 2022 Remember, varieties can live within varieties, the way the non-tangent intersection of a line and a circle creates a subvariety of two points. Quanta Magazine, 3 Feb. 2022 The team named their kernel the neural tangent kernel, based on some of its geometric properties. Quanta Magazine, 11 Oct. 2021 As the destination reveals, the path time is 3.5038, slightly better than that of the arc-tangent strategy. Quanta Magazine, 25 Aug. 2021 Friedman, meanwhile—after a long, bizarre tangent imagining a Taxi Driver monologue devoted to the importance of voting, rather than vigilantism—scolds Democrats for embracing radical language on police reform. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 24 June 2021 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 See More

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.

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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Dictionary Entries Near tangent

tang end



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Statistics for tangent

Last Updated

29 Jul 2022

Cite this Entry

“Tangent.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tangent. Accessed 9 Aug. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on tangent

Nglish: Translation of tangent for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of tangent for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about tangent


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