tem·​po ˈtem-(ˌ)pō How to pronounce tempo (audio)
plural tempi ˈtem-(ˌ)pē How to pronounce tempo (audio) or tempos
: the rate of speed of a musical piece or passage indicated by one of a series of directions (such as largo, presto, or allegro) and often by an exact metronome marking
: rate of motion or activity : pace

Examples of tempo in a Sentence

The song has a slow tempo. The composition has many changes of tempo. We walked at a fast tempo. The tempo of the game slowed down. The dance starts out fast and then switches tempo.
Recent Examples on the Web Slowing down the tempo and delivering a how-to tutorial on covering songs added extra depth to Timberlake’s standout effort. Carl Lamarre, Billboard, 1 Feb. 2024 The second half began as the first ended, with Duquesne in control of the tempo and the score. Jon Wilner, The Mercury News, 21 Mar. 2024 The scene then cuts to the singer in full color as the tempo lifts and she twirls and wraps herself in strands of yellow and red ribbon. Charisma Madarang, Rolling Stone, 20 Mar. 2024 Although Brazil controlled the tempo through much of the first half, the U.S. had the best two chances after switching to a press late in the period. Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times, 11 Mar. 2024 In the first half, Noblesville contended with 4A No. 14 HSE’s tempo and 3-point shooting. Indianapolis Star, The Indianapolis Star, 27 Jan. 2024 And, thankfully, the tempo with which Black women are nominated for and win Oscars, whatever the role, is increasing. Greg Braxton, Los Angeles Times, 8 Mar. 2024 Autonomous reactions at machine speed could drive a faster tempo of operations, accelerating the pace of battle. Paul Scharre, Foreign Affairs, 29 Feb. 2024 The author is fascinated by rubato, when a piece—or in this case, a singer—briefly plays with tempo but keeps a song’s overall structure intact. Owen Myers, Pitchfork, 29 Feb. 2024

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

Word History


borrowed from Italian, "time, rate of speed (in music)," going back to Latin tempor-, tempus "time, period of time, season," of uncertain origin

Note: If it originally meant "extent, measure" (hence, "extent of time"), Latin tempus could go back to an s-stem noun *temp-es- derived from an Indo-European verb base *temp- "stretch, extend," seen in Lithuanian tempiù, tem͂pti "to stretch, bend (a bow)," tìmpa "sinew, bowstring," Tocharian A & B cämp- "be able to" (if "stretch, exert effort" > "exert sufficient effort, be able"), and perhaps Old Norse þǫmb "womb, guts, bowstring." Though these are possibilities, the sum of comparable evidence for the etymon is not overwhelming.

First Known Use

circa 1724, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of tempo was circa 1724

Dictionary Entries Near tempo

Cite this Entry

“Tempo.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tempo. Accessed 25 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


tem·​po ˈtem-pō How to pronounce tempo (audio)
plural tempi -pē How to pronounce tempo (audio) or tempos
: the rate of speed at which a musical piece or passage is to be played or sung
: rate of motion or activity

More from Merriam-Webster on tempo

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