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 outdoor is ideal for dining al fresco, as guests can look upon the calming Bachman Branch, a tributary that runs right by the home, while enjoying their nibble. Tori Latham, Robb Report, 13 June 2022 Loaka is nestled along a tributary flowing into the Congo River. New York Times, 14 June 2022 The design team was tasked with creating spaces that would bring guests closer to the incredible location – on a tributary of the Grumeti River – while ensuring a sense of understated luxury. Sandra Macgregor, Forbes, 19 May 2022 Work began last year on the mine along a tributary of the Smith River, a waterway so popular among boaters that the state holds an annual lottery to decide who can float down it. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 12 Apr. 2022 One of my favorite places is the Horbachykha tract running along a tributary of the Dnipro River on Kyiv’s left bank. Megan Buskey, The Atlantic, 19 Mar. 2022 It’s named for a tributary of the Vermilion and one of the dozens of natural areas across northern Ohio managed by the museum for conservation, educational and research purposes. Peter Krouse, cleveland, 7 Feb. 2022 Last summer, Denver — which gets half its water from the Colorado and its tributaries — took less water than it was entitled to from headwaters creeks, helping raise and cool waters in the Colorado and a main tributary, the Fraser River. Erin Patrick O'connor, Washington Post, 14 May 2022 This was especially the case along the Madison River, a world-class fly-fishing tributary, which saw crowded parking lots, litter, and trampled banks. Meredith Bethune, Outside Online, 25 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective 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 From now through mid-February, most crappies will be caught in water deeper than 10 feet around woody structure in tributary creeks and bayous of these lakes. Frank Sargeant, al, 20 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

2 Jul 2022

Cite this Entry

“Tributary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Jul. 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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