vul·​ner·​a·​ble ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl How to pronounce vulnerable (audio)
: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
: open to attack or damage : assailable
vulnerable to criticism
: liable to increased penalties but entitled to increased bonuses after winning a game in contract bridge
vulnerability noun
ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl-nəs How to pronounce vulnerable (audio)
ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-blē How to pronounce vulnerable (audio)

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The History of Vulnerable

Vulnerable is ultimately derived from the Latin noun vulnus ("wound"). Vulnus led to the Latin verb vulnerare, meaning "to wound," and then to the Late Latin adjective vulnerabilis, which became vulnerable in English in the early 1600s. Vulnerable originally meant "capable of being physically wounded" or "having the power to wound" (the latter is now obsolete), but since the late 1600s, it has also been used figuratively to suggest a defenselessness against non-physical attacks. In other words, someone (or something) can be vulnerable to criticism or failure as well as to literal wounding. When it is used figuratively, vulnerable is often followed by the preposition to.

Examples of vulnerable in a Sentence

He was very vulnerable after his divorce. The troops were in a vulnerable position. The fort was undefended and vulnerable.
Recent Examples on the Web Archival records can’t fully account for human motivation; a death certificate doesn’t tell you why a vulnerable child was allowed to die. Maggie Doherty, The Atlantic, 12 Apr. 2024 And certainly, the Covid-19 pandemic ripped the veil down on the vulnerability of our global supply chains, and the fact that the world’s most vulnerable people were hit hardest and fastest by that pandemic each and every time. Leif Coorlim, CNN, 12 Apr. 2024 See all Example Sentences for vulnerable 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'vulnerable.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Late Latin vulnerabilis, from Latin vulnerare to wound, from vulner-, vulnus wound; probably akin to Latin vellere to pluck, Greek oulē wound

First Known Use

circa 1616, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of vulnerable was circa 1616

Dictionary Entries Near vulnerable

Cite this Entry

“Vulnerable.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


vul·​ner·​a·​ble ˈvəln-(ə-)rə-bəl How to pronounce vulnerable (audio)
: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
: open to attack or damage
a vulnerable position
vulnerability noun

Medical Definition


vul·​ner·​a·​ble ˈvəln-(ə-)rə-bəl, ˈvəl-nər-bəl How to pronounce vulnerable (audio)
: capable of being hurt : susceptible to injury or disease
the liver is itself vulnerable to nutritional impairmentJournal of the American Medical Association
vulnerability noun
plural vulnerabilities

More from Merriam-Webster on vulnerable

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