trib·​u·​tary | \ˈtri-byə-ˌter-ē \
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

Other hydro plants being built along the Mekong River and its tributaries supply power to meet growing demand to the east, in Vietnam. James Hookway And Eun-young Jeong, WSJ, "Construction Firms Scrambled to Prevent Laotian Dam’s Collapse," 25 July 2018 Each tributary would have had one of the drivelines and gathering basins in its drainage area, so those layers of sediment record what was happening in the gathering basin and along the driveline. Kiona N. Smith, Ars Technica, "Native Americans managed the prairie for better bison hunts," 25 July 2018 Additionally, a $50 million tributary silt and debris removal project has been recently added to the proposal as a direct result of community input, mainly through online forms and emails from the public. Jane Stueckemann, Houston Chronicle, "Cypress Creek-area residents review county flood control plans," 19 June 2018 They are located along a 22-mile stretch of highway between the Cascade Mountains and a tributary of the Columbia River, each with its own distinct character. Nancy Keates, WSJ, "A Modern Second-Home Retreat for Seattle’s Tech Elite," 19 Sep. 2018 The project re-channels Trinity River tributaries and addresses flood control while creating a waterfront district similar to San Antonio's River Walk. The Star-telegram Editorial Board, star-telegram, "Here's how to make your vote count Saturday | Fort Worth Star-Telegram," 4 May 2018 About 50,000 dams built on the Mississippi's tributaries halt the downriver flow of sediment. Tristan Baurick,, "Like the Louisiana coast, the Gulf seafloor is rapidly eroding, research finds," 5 Apr. 2018 At the top of the list is the Big Sunflower River, a tributary of the Mississippi river that flows through the state of Mississippi. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "These Are America’s Ten Most Endangered Rivers," 12 Apr. 2018 Loaded: 0% Progress: 0% 0:00 / 1:38 Fly over Feather River in Northern California on a beautiful June day Advertisement The Feather River is the main tributary of the Sacramento River, originating in Lake Oroville. Julia Sclafani, sacbee, "Triple-digit weather is on the way – here's when we'll feel the heat in Sacramento," 18 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

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 At Lewis Smith, stripers continue the gradual move away from the dam and up into the tributary arms, particularly Rock Creek, Brushy Creek and the Sipsey River areas. Frank Sargeant,, "Friday Fishing Report," 20 Oct. 2017 Testing of the tributary waters that feed the lake has been scaled back 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

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

5 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

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 \
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 \
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

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