ten·​or | \ ˈte-nər How to pronounce tenor (audio) \

Definition of tenor

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : the highest natural adult male singing voice also : a person having this voice
b : the voice part next to the lowest in a 4-part chorus
c : a member of a family of instruments having a range next lower than that of the alto
d : the melodic line usually forming the cantus firmus in medieval music
2a : the drift of something spoken or written : purport
b : an exact copy of a writing : transcript
c : the concept, object, or person meant in a metaphor
3 : a continuance in a course, movement, or activity
4 : habitual condition : character



Definition of tenor (Entry 2 of 2)

: relating to or having the range or part of a tenor

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Choose the Right Synonym for tenor


tendency, trend, drift, tenor, current mean movement in a particular direction. tendency implies an inclination sometimes amounting to an impelling force. a general tendency toward inflation trend applies to the general direction maintained by a winding or irregular course. the long-term trend of the stock market is upward drift may apply to a tendency determined by external forces the drift of the population away from large cities or it may apply to an underlying or obscure trend of meaning or discourse. got the drift of her argument tenor stresses a clearly perceptible direction and a continuous, undeviating course. the tenor of the times current implies a clearly defined but not necessarily unalterable course. an encounter that changed the current of my life

Examples of tenor in a Sentence


He has a high, lilting tenor. She asked the tenors to sing the line again. The tenor of his remarks is clear.


Verdi wrote some difficult tenor parts. She plays the tenor sax.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The difference between China’s 10-year government bonds and the U.S. Treasury note of the same tenor has shrunk to half a percentage point from 1.7 points late last year. Jacky Wong, WSJ, "The Brewing Fight Over the Yuan," 15 Oct. 2018 Jennifer Zetlan, soprano; Nicholas Phan, tenor; Hugh Russell, baritone; Kansas City Symphony Chorus directed by Charles Bruffy; Allegro Choirs of Kansas City directed by Christy Eisner. Patrick Neas, kansascity, "KC Symphony’s 2018-19 season has an American flourish," 13 Jan. 2018 Across all of these races, the Sanders/Ocasio-Cortez challengers tried to position themselves to the left of their opponents, either in tone and tenor or by championing policy proposals like free college tuition or single-payer health care. Joshua Jamerson, WSJ, "Most Candidates Backed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders Falter," 8 Aug. 2018 His slightly cracked and windburned tenor is empathy rendered as sound, a voice whose weary, grainy tone holds both pain and comfort. Mark Richardson, WSJ, "‘WARM’ by Jeff Tweedy Review: The Sweet Spot Between Personal and Universal," 28 Nov. 2018 What changed council members’ minds about the head tax, though, was the tenor of the campaign to oppose it, which began to morph into a broad criticism of Seattle’s city council and its members. Alana Semuels, The Atlantic, "How Amazon Helped Kill a Seattle Tax On Business," 13 June 2018 Five days earlier, the Met had announced that Bryan Hymel, the star tenor slated to sing Roméo, was sick and would be replaced by Charles Castronovo for all six performances. Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, "Review: Third Tenor’s Not Quite a Charm in the Met’s ‘Roméo’," 24 Apr. 2018 Observers of the soap opera-style Trump-Kim summit drama could be forgiven for thinking that a fragile courtship is underway, where the tenor of each side’s statements will determine whether the two can agree to sit down together. Washington Post, "Analysis: Wide US-North Korea gulf over nuclear deal terms," 26 May 2018 Davis’ nephew Vince Wilburn held down the drum chair while saxophonist Antoine Roney dug into both tenor and soprano saxophones. Sean J. O'connell, latimes.com, "At Playboy Jazz Fest, a 17-year-old wonder, an 83-year-old master and tributes to Hef and Miles Davis," 10 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tenor.' 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 tenor


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a


1522, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tenor


Middle English tenor, tenoure, tenure "main point of a document, intent of a legal agreement, continued presence or sustained course, part carrying the cantus firmus melody in contrapuntal music," borrowed from Anglo-French & Medieval Latin; Anglo-French tenur, tenure "import of a document," borrowed from Medieval Latin tenōr-, tenor "sustained course, continuity, condition, drift of a law or document, tone of the voice, cantus firmus melody in contrapuntal music," going back to Latin, "sustained course, continuity, tone of the voice," from tenēre "to hold, possess" + -ōr-, -or, going back to *-ōs-, deverbal noun suffix of state — more at tenant entry 1

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Dictionary Entries near tenor



tenon tooth


tenor clef



Statistics for tenor

Last Updated

10 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for tenor

The first known use of tenor was in the 14th century

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English Language Learners Definition of tenor

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: the highest adult male singing voice also : a singer who has such a voice
: the general or basic quality or meaning of something



English Language Learners Definition of tenor (Entry 2 of 2)

: having a range that is lower than an alto and higher than a baritone


ten·​or | \ ˈte-nər How to pronounce tenor (audio) \

Kids Definition of tenor

1 : the next to the lowest part in harmony having four parts
2 : the highest male singing voice
3 : a singer or an instrument having a tenor range or part

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More from Merriam-Webster on tenor

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tenor

Spanish Central: Translation of tenor

Nglish: Translation of tenor for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of tenor for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about tenor

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