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 The problem is Hadassah doesn’t have her walking sneakers, which gets them on a tangent about how entitled and inauthentic Payton is. Shannon Carlin, refinery29.com, "The Politician Season 2 Binge Club Recap: Episodes 1-7," 24 June 2020 The president, in a short tangent during the press conference, praised the press corps for sitting closer together. Mike Brest, Washington Examiner, "'Health at risk': WHCA president rebukes White House for seating reporters close together," 5 June 2020 Horace goes off on tangents, extends similes beyond their relevance, circles back to topics already covered. Gregory Hays, The New York Review of Books, "Horace’s How-To," 27 May 2020 Because nothing in the interactive elements can be allowed to derail the overall story, the detours all feel like tangents. Brian Lowry, CNN, "'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' breaks in interactive comedy, and exposes its limits," 12 May 2020 The most fascinating bit of the movie, which seems like a bit of a tangent but one worth noting, involves a psychology study at UC Berkeley. Los Angeles Times, "Review: Income inequality? ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ says the system needs fixing," 30 Apr. 2020 But holding the square of paper tangent to the globe at one point and tracing Greenland’s edge while peering through the paper (a technique known as Mercator projection) will produce distortions too. Quanta Magazine, "An Idea From Physics Helps AI See in Higher Dimensions," 9 Jan. 2020 Despite all its tangents, this is a fascinating read. New York Times, "Letters to the Editor," 27 Mar. 2020 With the help of Vitamin D (and maybe magnesium, the science is still grainy there), these elements work in tangent to form new bones and shore up existing ones—unless there’s an imbalance. Popular Science, "These trippy images reveal the colorful inner lives of bones," 4 Feb. 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

4 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tangent.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tangent. Accessed 5 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for tangent


How to pronounce tangent (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of tangent

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

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Comments on tangent

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