tan·​gen·​tial tan-ˈjen(t)-shəl How to pronounce tangential (audio)
: touching lightly : incidental, peripheral
tangential involvement
also : of little relevance
arguments tangential to the main point
: of, relating to, or of the nature of a tangent
: acting along or lying in a tangent
tangential forces
tangentially adverb

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Tangential Has Mathematical Roots

In geometry, a tangent is a straight line that touches a curve at a single point. So we say that someone who starts talking about one thing and gets sidetracked has gone off on a tangent. The new subject is tangential to the first subject—it touches it and moves off in a different direction.

Examples of tangential in a Sentence

Their romance is tangential to the book's main plot.
Recent Examples on the Web Fourth, his pedagogy, which seems in retrospect to be central, rather than tangential, to his achievement. Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 17 Nov. 2023 Amon, who noted that the U.S. remains the global leader in chip design, predicted that the U.S. could become the dominant force in AI and all the tangential industries needed to support its development. Bypaolo Confino, Fortune, 3 Oct. 2023 That problem has some tangential issues that plague society. Nick Anderson, Washington Post, 13 Aug. 2023 Claudia knows that before the why of the story can be considered, the how must be chronicled in all its seemingly tangential yet crucially relevant details. Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times, 14 Sep. 2023 Much like the artist herself, her work is charmingly tangential, equal parts bewildering and bewitching. Seth Combs, San Diego Union-Tribune, 3 Sep. 2023 And yet, as football and some other college sports more closely resemble a professional model, their link to the educational mission of nonprofit, largely public universities is increasingly tangential. Billy Witz, New York Times, 1 Sep. 2023 Their acts were not caused by arguments over the meaning of tangential terms in the school curriculum, or by esoteric debates over the legality of affirmative action, or by ineffable atmospheres of any sort. The Editors, National Review, 30 Aug. 2023 Haskins deserves something more than a tangential mention. Mike Freeman, USA TODAY, 23 Aug. 2023 See More

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

Word History

First Known Use

1630, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Time Traveler
The first known use of tangential was in 1630

Dictionary Entries Near tangential

Cite this Entry

“Tangential.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tangential. Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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