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

Invoking Justice Kennedy’s muddled opinion, the Obama EPA claimed all land within a 100-year floodplain and 1,500 feet of the high-water mark or 4,000 feet of waters already under its jurisdiction—namely, rivers, tributaries and adjacent wetlands. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Trump’s Regulatory Dredging," 11 Dec. 2018 The recent shortages have also been blamed on dams built on tributaries in neighboring Iran. Washington Post, "Turkey seeks to reassure Iraqis over upstream dam," 5 June 2018 All king salmon fishing is shut down on the Susitna River and tributaries as of Friday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced Wednesday. Zaz Hollander, Anchorage Daily News, "From bad to worse: State announces more king salmon fishing shutdowns for Susitna Valley," 22 June 2018 In this latest series, the artist focuses on the perfect union of the two: the Los Angeles River and its tributaries. Carolina A. Miranda,, "Datebook: Intimate paintings of queer men, African blacksmiths' ironworks and an indispensable assistant's exhibit," 31 May 2018 Ethiopia is building a massive $4.2 billion dam on the Nile’s main tributary that Egypt, which depends on the Nile for its water supply, fears will divert too much water and place pressure on its agriculture. Jared Malsin, WSJ, "Egypt and Ethiopia Smooth Tensions Over Nile Dam," 16 May 2018 During the 19th century, communities that you may never have heard of -- like Albion, Sanderson's Corners and Slab Hollow -- were established to use the water power from the east branch of the Rocky River and its tributaries. Shirley Macfarland,, "Take a hike at Mill Stream Run Reservation: Strong Points," 20 Apr. 2018 Yakama Nation Fisheries will collaborate with several other groups and private landowners to use helicopters to carry more than 5,000 logs to seven tributaries in remote areas of the Yakima Basin. Luke Thompson, The Seattle Times, "5,000 logs will be dropped into Yakima River tributaries to enhance ecosystem," 29 Sep. 2018 Western Wisconsin's Kinnickinnic, a popular trout fishing river, runs through the city of River Falls and is the last major tributary in the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Lee Bergquist, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Kinnickinnic River — but not Milwaukee's — named one of most endangered rivers in 2018," 11 Apr. 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

6 Jun 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).


to move with exaggerated bouncy motions

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