trib·​u·​tary | \ ˈtri-byə-ˌter-ē How to pronounce tributary (audio) \
plural tributaries

Definition of tributary

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a stream feeding a larger stream or a lake
2 : a ruler or state that pays tribute to a conqueror



Definition of tributary (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : paying tribute to another to acknowledge submission, to obtain protection, or to purchase peace : subject
2 : paid or owed as tribute tributary gifts
3 : channeling material or supplies into something more inclusive : contributory

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Synonyms & Antonyms for tributary

Synonyms: Noun

affluent, bayou, branch, confluent, feeder, influent

Antonyms: Noun

distributary, effluent

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Did You Know?

A tributary was originally a person or state that owed tribute to a more powerful person or state. Ancient China, for instance, had dozens of tributary states, and the emperor would receive elephants from Siam or young girls from Korea as tribute. Just as a smaller power gave some of its wealth to a larger power, a small river contributes its waters to a larger one. A tributary can be a tiny stream, but some are immense rivers. The Missouri River, for example, could be called a tributary to the Mississippi, even though it's about 2,500 miles long and receives hundreds of tributaries itself.

Examples of tributary in a Sentence


one of the river's tributaries This stream is a tributary of the Ohio River.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

The tanks are stocked with up to 10 species of plants and animals from small tributaries of the Middle Patuxent River that flow through the county. Janene Holzberg,, "Howard County students inspire future caretakers of the natural world," 3 Sep. 2019 With CDs on the way out, our brave new streaming world has proved not so hot for classical, jazz, world music and many other tributaries outside the commercial mainstream. Mark Swed,, "Commentary: Classical streaming has arrived. How do the new services stack up?," 3 Sep. 2019 With CDs on the way out, our brave new streaming world has proved not so hot for classical, jazz, world music and many other tributaries outside the commercial mainstream. Los Angeles Times, "Commentary: Classical streaming has arrived. How do the new services stack up?," 29 Aug. 2019 His bloodstream seems like a few interconnected tributaries full of red bull and coffee. Conor Orr,, "Vic Fangio Is Bringing His Hometown Vibes to Denver," 19 Aug. 2019 Southeast of Shishmaref, on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula, photos of a tributary of the Serpentine River show no change at all between 1950 and 1985. Katie Orlinsky, National Geographic, "Arctic permafrost is thawing fast. That affects us all.," 16 Aug. 2019 The air and water discharges from the plants sickened people and poisoned the river, an Ohio tributary. Keith Schneider, ProPublica, "West Virginia Bets Big on Plastics, and on Backing of Trump Administration," 31 July 2019 Pre-Bloomberg The site where the stylus was found stands on the banks of the ancient River Walbrook, a tributary of the Thames that now flows beneath the city’s streets. Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica, "A 2,000-year-old stylus makes a point about ancient Roman humor," 31 July 2019 The centerpiece is a series of ranch buildings alongside Henrys Fork, a tributary of the Snake River. Peter Kujawinski, New York Times, "Rich in Surprises and Secrets, There’s a State Park Waiting for You," 29 July 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

As a bonus, both fish ladders and trap and haul can make life unpleasant for communities of fish that are further downstream, or in tributary environments where there’s one main transport system along the main river. Aja Romano, Vox, "These unanswered questions are fueling speculation about the sex offender’s life and death.," 11 Aug. 2019 Though snakes are rare in snow country, one of the most prolific rattlesnake areas in California is the lower reaches of Rattlesnake Creek, a tributary canyon to the Kern River in Sequoia National Park (Tulare County). Tom Stienstra,, "Rattlesnake season is here. Be prepared.," 28 June 2019 Each tributary canyon is unique, with dramatic shapes, and vivid colors. Jill K. Robinson, San Francisco Chronicle, "Top 10 California parks: Little known wonders," 9 May 2018 Coastal fall tributary seasons: Will be announced later this spring; however, there will be no wild coho fishing in north coast tributaries this year. Bill Monroe,, "Salmon seasons set for Oregon Coast, Columbia River," 13 Apr. 2018 The owners of this 10,000-acre property purchased it on an impulse, then built a house situated on the rimrock of a tributary canyon. Wsj Real Estate, WSJ, "Going Up? Incline Elevators Help Hillside Homeowners," 10 Aug. 2017 At Lewis Smith, best bet is to look for striped bass making spawning runs up the tributary rivers--the fish migrate from early March to early April before returning to the depths of the lake for the rest of the year. Frank Sargeant,, "Friday Fishing Report," 15 Mar. 2018 Testing of the tributary waters that feed the lake has been scaled back; a public water quality board folded; a real-time chemical spill monitoring system in the St. Clair River shuttered through neglect and disinterest. Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press, "Lake St. Clair: Beach closures, 'nasty stuff' in the water, a problem that doesn't get fixed," 29 Sep. 2017 But in China’s case, that pushback comes not just from the West but also from neighbors who remember the tributary system of its imperial past — or are wary of its Communist political system despite its embrace of capitalism decades ago. Jane Perlez, New York Times, "Xi Jinping Pushes China’s Global Rise Despite Friction and Fear," 22 Oct. 2017

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


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Statistics for tributary

Last Updated

12 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for tributary

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

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More Definitions for tributary



English Language Learners Definition of tributary

: a stream that flows into a larger stream or river or into a lake


trib·​u·​tary | \ ˈtri-byə-ˌter-ē How to pronounce tributary (audio) \
plural tributaries

Kids Definition of tributary

: a stream flowing into a larger stream or a lake The river has several tributaries.


trib·​u·​tary | \ ˈtrib-yə-ˌter-ē How to pronounce tributary (audio) \
plural tributaries

Medical Definition of tributary

: a vein that empties into a larger vein

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More from Merriam-Webster on tributary

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tributary

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tributary

Spanish Central: Translation of tributary

Nglish: Translation of tributary for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about tributary

Comments on tributary

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


concealment of treason or felony

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