tan·​gen·​tial | \ tan-ˈjen(t)-shəl How to pronounce tangential (audio) \

Definition of tangential

1a : touching lightly : incidental, peripheral tangential involvement also : of little relevance arguments tangential to the main point
2 : of, relating to, or of the nature of a tangent
3 : acting along or lying in a tangent tangential forces

Other Words from tangential

tangentially \ tan-​ˈjen(t)-​sh(ə-​)lē How to pronounce tangential (audio) \ adverb

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 The Alfa Bank allegations and the Steele dossier were largely tangential to the official investigation into whether there was collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. New York Times, 15 May 2022 This whole argument is a bit tangential to the book’s focus of why robots should prevail in space, at least for the time being. Bruce Dorminey, Forbes, 24 Apr. 2022 Critics, including some moderate Democrats as well as Republicans, are right to argue that Biden is implementing a substantive policy change with only tangential connection to public health. Samuel Goldman, The Week, 6 Apr. 2022 Late-night television has used Ukraine for familiar or tangential punch lines — Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump or the quality of Papa John’s pizza. David Bauder, ajc, 29 Mar. 2022 That pretrial dispute -- and a tangential one, centered on how the Justice Department went about investigating the counsel Bannon received -- will be argued Wednesday before a federal judge in DC. Tierney Sneed And Sara Murray, CNN, 16 Mar. 2022 Lisa, this was kind of a sleazy, tangential effort to. Laura Johnston, cleveland, 15 Mar. 2022 In terms of Trump, my feeling was after investigating it, his relationship to Trump was so tangential and really not important in his life to him. Addie Morfoot, Variety, 15 Feb. 2022 Extra sessions spent on tangential aspects of athleticism—the kind of flexibility work and strength training that built long-lasting athletes from Cristiano Ronaldo to Novak Djokovic—were mere distractions to van der Poel. Joshua Robinson, WSJ, 13 Feb. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of tangential

1630, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Learn More About tangential

Time Traveler for tangential

Time Traveler

The first known use of tangential was in 1630

See more words from the same year

Dictionary Entries Near tangential

tangent galvanometer


tangential creep

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for tangential

Last Updated

20 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Tangential.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tangential. Accessed 23 May. 2022.

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Name That Food

  • a-light
  • Name these cookies!
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!