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

Antonyms: Noun

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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

Noun one of the river's tributaries This stream is a tributary of the Ohio River.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The river forms from tributaries high in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia and flows northward to meet with the Monongahela River just before crossing into southwestern Pennsylvania., "360 degrees of the Cheat River: A journey to revitalization on an Ohio River tributary," 30 Dec. 2019 Seasonal wet meadow habitat restored, site where the three Tennessee Hollow tributaries come together., "Habitat restoration sites in the Presidio," 1 Dec. 2019 Two booms extend from its body, guiding trash flowing from the tributary toward its mouth, where a conveyor belt slowly carries the trash up a ramp and deposits it in a dumpster, located under a canopy. Carolyn Kormann, The New Yorker, "The Promise of Mr. Trash Wheel," 6 Nov. 2019 The government, one of the world’s few remaining communist regimes, has signed off on more than 140 dams for the Mekong and its tributaries. New York Times, "‘Our River Was Like a God’: How Dams and China’s Might Imperil the Mekong," 12 Oct. 2019 Ohio has made a deal with the U.S. Corps of Engineers to stop hauling dredge material from Lake Erie’s tributaries, including the Cuyahoga River, for open lake dumping. D'arcy Egan,, "Sen. Rob Portman frustrated by continuing algal blooms on Lake Erie," 12 Aug. 2019 There are a lot of people west of here that are already starting to experience the inland floating as the waters move down through the tributaries and the rivers trying to get down to the coast. Fox News, "Diamond and Silk ride out the storm in North Carolina," 15 Sep. 2018 Below the mining area is about 80 river miles of habitat for spring/summer Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout in the South Fork of the Salmon River and its tributary, the East Fork of the South Fork. Washington Post, "Documents: Mining company writing own environmental report," 13 Dec. 2019 With the Elk River and its tributaries Indian Creek and Big Sugar Creek at hand, Noel has also earned a reputation as the Canoe City of the Ozarks. Lee Ann Murphy, USA TODAY, "Here's how a small town in Missouri became known as 'The Christmas City'," 9 Dec. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Opponents say raising the dam would harm the tributary McCloud River and its wild trout fishery protected by the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Washington Post, "Interior proposes coveted deal to ex-client of agency head," 9 Nov. 2019 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

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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Time Traveler for tributary

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for tributary

Last Updated

17 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tributary.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 26 January 2020.

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More Definitions for tributary


How to pronounce tributary (audio)

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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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).


to express in a more acceptable way

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