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

The Rio Negro feeds into the Amazon just below Manaus, Brazil, and is its largest tributary, creating a beautiful contrast of color where the white waters of the Amazon and the black waters of the Rio Negro meet. Brynn Mannino, Woman's Day, "10 Extraordinary Rivers Around the World," 15 Oct. 2010 Proponents argued the work would not only ease flooding problems but would improve water quality in local tributaries and Mobile Bay itself. Lawrence Specker,, "Prichard unfairly left out of RESTORE Act funding, mayor charges," 14 Mar. 2018 In recent years, sea lions also have started eating fish at Willamette Falls on the Willamette River, a Columbia tributary. Ryan Sabalow, sacbee, "To protect salmon in the Columbia, will we have to kill more sea lions?," 6 July 2018 Its second property, Azerai Can Tho, is slated to open by year-end on the Hau River, a Mekong tributary, in Vietnam’s fourth-largest city. New York Times, "New Hotels to Check Out in 2018," 9 Jan. 2018 The plan would double the amount of water that must flow freely through the Low San Joaquin River and three of its tributaries from February to June, meaning less water can be diverted for farming or other needs. Kathleen Ronayne, The Seattle Times, "Farmers protest California water plan aimed to save salmon," 20 Aug. 2018 Big rains in the mountains can flood the river and its tributaries with glacial silt that clouds the water for days or even weeks. Peter Reese, Popular Mechanics, "The Best Way To Spend 72 Hours at Jackson Hole," 31 July 2018 In Florida, where groundwater re-emerges, the river networks have much wider angles between their tributaries. Nola Taylor Redd,, "Geometry Helps Solve the Mystery of Mars' Water," 13 July 2018 Here's the top five: Green Bay (Lake Michigan) The Wisconsin waters of Green Bay, including its tributaries, was considered by most of the experts to have the best chance in the state to produce an 18-pound-plus walleye. Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Smith: The Wisconsin walleye record has stood since 1933. These five waters have the best potential to top it.," 25 May 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

28 Mar 2019

Look-up Popularity

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).


an enemy or opponent

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