vul·​ner·​a·​ble | \ ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl How to pronounce vulnerable (audio) , ˈvəl-nər-bəl \

Definition of vulnerable

1 : capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
2 : open to attack or damage : assailable vulnerable to criticism
3 : liable to increased penalties but entitled to increased bonuses after winning a game in contract bridge

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Other Words from vulnerable

vulnerability \ ˌvəl-​n(ə-​)rə-​ˈbi-​lə-​tē How to pronounce vulnerability (audio) \ noun
vulnerableness \ ˈvəl-​n(ə-​)rə-​bəl-​nəs How to pronounce vulnerableness (audio) , ˈvəl-​nər-​bəl-​ \ noun
vulnerably \ ˈvəl-​n(ə-​)rə-​blē How to pronounce vulnerably (audio) , ˈvəl-​nər-​blē \ adverb

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web Most companies are vulnerable during downturns when cash flow dries up. Matt Egan, CNN, "Risky deals boomed during the bull market. Now some are blowing up," 29 June 2020 History suggests that Somalia’s 16m people are especially vulnerable. The Economist, "A stitch in time Can early intervention prevent humanitarian disasters?," 27 June 2020 The president called on policy makers to be extremely attentive to those that are most vulnerable, including the poor, the young and women, who have been the most affected by the crisis. Fortune, "As the U.S. sees record coronavirus cases, the ECB’s Lagarde says the worst is over in Europe," 26 June 2020 But engaging in this public work while owning a bisexual+ identity — an identity that cannot be assumed or confirmed by examining a person’s gender presentation or the gender of their current partner — is vulnerable. Lauren Patten,, "If I’m Not Gay Enough, & I’m Not Straight Enough, Then What Am I?," 25 June 2020 Those who live in geographic areas severely impacted by COVID-19 are more vulnerable, as are those who may have lost a loved one to the virus. Alia E. Dastagir, USA TODAY, "'A culmination of crises': America is in turmoil, and a mental health crisis looms next," 21 June 2020 Cranes do not feed on seedlings, but rather the planted seeds, which are vulnerable until the endosperm is fully metabolized by the plant. Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Sandhill crane population and management issues on tap for NRB meeting," 20 June 2020 Further down the road, Jones said, executives and managers will have to decide how to handle employees who are more vulnerable. Dallas News, "Not so fast, boss: As COVID-19 cases spike in Texas, more delay their return to the office," 19 June 2020 Claman responded that rural Alaskans in general are vulnerable, referring to the state’s history of tuberculosis and the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic. James Brooks, Anchorage Daily News, "Alaska Democratic lawmakers push back on state’s absentee voting plan for people 65 or older," 19 June 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vulnerable.' 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 vulnerable

circa 1616, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for vulnerable

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

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Time Traveler for vulnerable

Time Traveler

The first known use of vulnerable was circa 1616

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Statistics for vulnerable

Last Updated

3 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Vulnerable.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for vulnerable


How to pronounce vulnerable (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of vulnerable

: easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally
: open to attack, harm, or damage


vul·​ner·​a·​ble | \ ˈvəl-nə-rə-bəl How to pronounce vulnerable (audio) \

Kids Definition of vulnerable

1 : capable of being easily hurt or injured The patient is vulnerable to infection.
2 : open to attack or damage The troops were in a vulnerable position.


vul·​ner·​a·​ble | \ ˈvəln-(ə-)rə-bəl, ˈvəl-nər-bəl How to pronounce vulnerable (audio) \

Medical Definition of vulnerable

: capable of being hurt : susceptible to injury or disease the liver is itself vulnerable to nutritional impairmentJournal of the American Medical Association

Other Words from vulnerable

vulnerability \ ˌvəln-​(ə-​)rə-​ˈbil-​ət-​ē How to pronounce vulnerability (audio) \ noun, plural vulnerabilities

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