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

Synonyms & Antonyms for tributary

Synonyms: Noun

Antonyms: Noun

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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 Inhulets River, a tributary of the Dnipro, cuts south across Kherson Oblast and merges with the Dnipro east of the port. David Axe, Forbes, 31 July 2022 The Ogden Valley marks the spot where several creeks convene and form the Ogden River, a tributary of the Weber. Leia Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, 4 July 2022 The chub has gained ground since its listing as endangered in 1967, with about 12,000 in the Grand Canyon's Little Colorado River, a tributary of the Colorado. Brittany Peterson And John Flesher, USA TODAY, 15 June 2022 The chub has gained ground since its listing as endangered in 1967, with about 12,000 in the Grand Canyon's Little Colorado River, a tributary of the Colorado. CBS News, 15 June 2022 Bass that spilled out of smaller reservoirs have chomped through native species for years above Lake Powell on the Colorado and its largest tributary, the Green River. Brandon Loomis, The Arizona Republic, 19 July 2022 Transit along the Loire River and follow its Cher tributary to inimitable Château de Chenonceau, once the home of Catherine de Medici. Laura Manske, Forbes, 15 July 2022 Federal prosecutors are pursuing a separate case against a sister company, Belle Fourche Pipeline, over a 2016 spill in North Dakota that released more than 600,000 gallons of crude and contaminated the Little Missouri River and a tributary. Fox News, 14 July 2022 At least eight other species were identified in the fish kill, which comes less than a week after a broken sewage pipe in Glen Burnie sent nearly 11,000 gallons of sewage into a Marley Creek tributary. Christine Condon, Baltimore Sun, 9 June 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Like most saline lakes throughout the West, Great Salt Lake has declined over time due to drought and from humans diverting water from its tributary rivers. Leia Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, 5 July 2022 The clock attached to the tripod kept ticking and the suspense was growing until the current from the tributary Chena River finally pushed the ice around the tripod at 6:47 p.m. Alaska Standard Time May 2. Alena Naiden, Anchorage Daily News, 3 May 2022 The Great Salt Lake began to recede in the early 2000s, fueled by the current megadrought and unfettered diversion of its tributary rivers to water farms, cities and suburban turf. Leia Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, 10 Apr. 2022 By Valentine’s Day, dry weather had plunged snowpack above most tributary streams back below normal., 1 Mar. 2022 At Lewis Smith, this is prime time to catch a trophy striped bass as the fish move up into the tributary bays toward the rivers, particularly the Sipsey, Brushy and Ryan Creek arms. Frank Sargeant, al, 3 Dec. 2021 Where the tributary stream wraps around Houston Mesa Road at its confluence with Ellison Creek, the Water Wheel group of recreation sites attract anglers, swimmers and hikers. Mare Czinar, The Arizona Republic, 16 Apr. 2021 By the late 1970s, tributary streams had dried up, dropping the lake level more than 40 feet and doubling the water’s salinity. Los Angeles Times, 6 Nov. 2021 Loxley: $250,000 for Corn Creek tributary restoration. al, 15 Oct. 2021 See More

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.

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

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Last Updated

7 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Tributary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for tributary


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

More from Merriam-Webster on tributary

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


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