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 vulnerable (audio) \ noun
vulnerableness \ ˈvəl-​n(ə-​)rə-​bəl-​nəs How to pronounce vulnerable (audio) , ˈvəl-​nər-​bəl-​ \ noun
vulnerably \ ˈvəl-​n(ə-​)rə-​blē How to pronounce vulnerable (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 The disease is believed to be associated with changes in the brain that occur during puberty that may trigger psychotic episodes in people who are vulnerable, according to the National Institutes of Health. ABC News, "Mom who struggled to accept her son's schizophrenia talks about crisis services," 28 Apr. 2021 The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how vulnerable many of us are — particularly those with chronic health conditions and noncommunicable diseases. Jeff Ruby, Forbes, "How Employers Can Help Workers And Save Dollars With Healthy Employee Habits," 27 Apr. 2021 Kidnapping for ransom has escalated in Kaduna and other parts of northern Nigeria, as criminal gangs target schools that are perceived to be vulnerable. Nimi Princewill, CNN, "Kidnappers kill two more students abducted from Nigerian university," 26 Apr. 2021 Individuals can be vulnerable, especially in unsettled times. Allen Dickerson, WSJ, "‘Donor Disclosure’ Chills Free Speech," 25 Apr. 2021 DeWine opted to distribute the other 20% based on how vulnerable a population was. cleveland, "Did Gov. Mike DeWine play politics when distributing vaccines? The data says no.," 23 Apr. 2021 During her fact-checking mission, Liza had called one of the consultants on Quinn’s failed senatorial campaign who was in charge of figuring out where Quinn was most vulnerable and what her biggest negatives would be. Maggie Fremont, Vulture, "Younger Recap: Liza Miller Investigates!," 22 Apr. 2021 The state is already on the record that among the factors are: Floyd was especially vulnerable, Chauvin was a uniformed police officer acting in a position of authority, and his acts were witnessed by children, one of them 9 years old. Rochelle Olson, Star Tribune, "Derek Chauvin cuffed after murder, manslaughter convictions in death of George Floyd," 20 Apr. 2021 During an extreme weather event, affordable housing — more likely to have been built in disaster-prone areas in the first place — is especially vulnerable and often hit the hardest, shrinking the already limited inventory. NBC News, "Crises collide: Homeless in America when climate disaster strikes," 20 Apr. 2021

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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Last Updated

5 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Vulnerable.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for vulnerable



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 vulnerable (audio) \ noun, plural vulnerabilities

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