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ten·​or ˈte-nər How to pronounce tenor (audio)
: the highest natural adult male singing voice
also : a person having this voice
: the voice part next to the lowest in a 4-part chorus
: a member of a family of instruments having a range next lower than that of the alto
: the melodic line usually forming the cantus firmus in medieval music
: the drift of something spoken or written : purport
: an exact copy of a writing : transcript
: the concept, object, or person meant in a metaphor
: a continuance in a course, movement, or activity
: habitual condition : character


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

Noun He has a high, lilting tenor. She asked the tenors to sing the line again. The tenor of his remarks is clear. Adjective Verdi wrote some difficult tenor parts. She plays the tenor sax.
Recent Examples on the Web
Italian tenor Pasquale Esposito will join the San Jose Wind Symphony for its concert on Feb. 25 in Saratoga. Sal Pizarro, The Mercury News, 17 Feb. 2024 The tenor of the strike, which achieved a historic contract by every measure, included unprecedented personal attacks on auto executives from UAW President Shawn Fain. Detroit Free Press, 15 Feb. 2024 But as construction jobs are created and rail infrastructure gets built, the tenor of the conversation has started to shift, my L.A. Times colleague Melissa Gomez reports. Sammy Roth, Los Angeles Times, 13 Feb. 2024 Operatic tenor Nicholas Spence, rugby referee Sara Cox and wheelchair rugby player James Simpson were among those who collected their awards from the Princess on Tuesday. Simon Perry, Peoplemag, 6 Feb. 2024 A little more than one year after his Indiana debut, the legendary tenor is returning for a show alongside the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Rory Appleton, The Indianapolis Star, 2 Jan. 2024 That’s just the beginning: Here are five minutes to fall in love with tenors, the flute, the trumpet, Brahms, string quartets and so much more. Zachary Woolfe, New York Times, 1 Jan. 2024 The council’s breakfast ahead of the vote set the tenor for the debate. Michael Brice-Saddler, Washington Post, 7 Feb. 2024 Further helping maintain a tenor of anxious vulnerability is Adam Janota Bzowski’s original score, which is almost exclusively percussive. Dennis Harvey, Variety, 5 Feb. 2024 See More

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

Word History



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

First Known Use


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


1522, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near tenor

Cite this Entry

“Tenor.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tenor. Accessed 4 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
ten·​or ˈten-ər How to pronounce tenor (audio)
: the general meaning of something spoken or written
the tenor of the book
: the next to lowest musical part in harmony for four parts compare alto sense 1b, bass entry 2 sense 1a, soprano entry 2 sense 1
: the highest natural adult male singing voice or a person who has such a voice
: a person or instrument performing a part next above a bass part
: a continuing in a course, movement, or activity
the tenor of my life


2 of 2 adjective
: relating to or having the range or part of a tenor
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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