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 Up on Jack Wade Creek, a tributary of the Fortymile River east of Fairbanks, the Salmon Gold project is entering its second year of operation. Elizabeth Earl, Anchorage Daily News, "Partnership mines old gold while reclaiming the Fortymile River for fish," 21 Aug. 2019 John Kellett, the former director of Baltimore’s Maritime Museum, used to cross a footbridge over Jones Falls, the largest tributary feeding into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, every day on his way to work. Carolyn Kormann, The New Yorker, "The Promise of Mr. Trash Wheel," 6 Nov. 2019 Those drains emptied into nearby Rainbow Brook, a small tributary of the Farmington River. Gregory B. Hladky,, "Firefighting foam chemicals used to put out B-17 crash flames reached the Farmington River," 17 Oct. 2019 The spidery masterpiece, more a drawing than a sculpture, spans a tributary of the Brahmaputra. Paul Salopek, National Geographic, "Following a river of questions in eastern India," 16 Oct. 2019 Canoe, kayak and small boat fishermen in ponds and Bay tributaries should proceed with caution: Fish with a companion and wear a PFD, preferably one with solid filling, already inflated or automatically inflating, with a light and whistle attached. Bill May,, "Bill May: Putting together some fall fishing plans," 13 Oct. 2019 The country’s 16 million people get about 80 percent of their protein intake from its system, which includes a tributary that is the only river in the world that changes course seasonally. New York Times, "‘Our River Was Like a God’: How Dams and China’s Might Imperil the Mekong," 12 Oct. 2019 On the Machado River Late last month, Hogan joined a team of Brazilian researchers on a journey down the Madeira River, the largest tributary of the Amazon. National Geographic, "Amazon fish species at risk if fires destroy river habitat," 13 Sep. 2019 The Green River, a tributary of the Colorado that runs through Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, is a typically acute case. Max Holleran, The New Republic, "The Water Wars Are Here," 13 Sep. 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

5 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Tributary.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 7 December 2019.

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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

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