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

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The final 1966-67 cover is joyful and fun, but inside, the more serious political tenor that had emerged in the 1960 edition continues. Candacy Taylor, Condé Nast Traveler, "Retracing the ‘Green Book’ and the Evolving Story of Black Travel," 7 Jan. 2020 The tone and tenor the conversations changed dramatically. al, "How the I-10 project was killed," 1 Sep. 2019 Rita enjoyed playing in a trio with her daughter on the clarinet and her husband on the tenor saxophone. courant.com, "Rita Pisetsky," 23 Aug. 2019 The bright-voiced tenor Gerhard Siegel was a sneering yet aptly absurd Captain. New York Times, "Review: The Searing Beauty of Kentridge’s ‘Wozzeck’ at the Met," 29 Dec. 2019 If veteran tenor Rufus Müller’s sometimes dry, sometimes crooned top notes now require careful management, few singers can make the role of the Evangelist sound as conversational and lived-in. Joe Banno, Washington Post, "One aria sums up a joyful Washington Bach Consort ‘Christmas Oratorio’," 23 Dec. 2019 Sehgal writes), and on the mood and tenor of the subject-reporter relationship. Longreads, "Longreads Best of 2019: Profiles," 18 Dec. 2019 At least two other competing soirees were on the books that night, and legendary tenor Andrea Bocelli was set to perform at the Toyota Center. Amber Elliott, Houston Chronicle, "Fertitta family home hosts Legacy Community Health's annual cocktail party honoring Fady Armanious," 16 Dec. 2019 Pursuing that deeper meaning at the upcoming performance will be the Columbia Pro Cantare Chorus and Festival Orchestra, as well as soprano Amy Van Roekel, mezzo Leah Kaye Serr, tenor Charles Reid, baritone Rob McGinness, and organist Henry Lowe. Mike Giuliano, baltimoresun.com, "Columbia Pro Cantare always fine-tuning Handel’s ‘Messiah’," 6 Dec. 2019

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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Time Traveler for tenor

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for tenor

Last Updated

21 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tenor.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tenor. Accessed 25 January 2020.

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More Definitions for tenor


How to pronounce tenor (audio)

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

Comments on tenor

What made you want to look up tenor? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


dull or mediocre

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