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.

Example Sentences

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 Supply chain fails, sales fall While many retailers were grappling with supply chain issues a year ago, Bed Bath was among the most vulnerable, missing many of its 200 best-selling items including kitchen appliances and personal electronics, during the holiday 2021 season. Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press, 24 Apr. 2023 There are elements of the brash, in-your-face sound of The Girls Are Back in town, but now it’s tempered with a sweeter, lighter approach that’s at times vulnerable. Jon Freeman, Rolling Stone, 21 Apr. 2023 That growth is of people who are highly vulnerable, people with very low economic resources, and a large number of migrants. Bianca Padró Ocasio,, 20 Apr. 2023 Conversation—the kind that's genuine and vulnerable, that penetrates past pleasantries and superficiality—was of the upmost importance. Chelsey Sanchez, Harper's BAZAAR, 20 Apr. 2023 Smart, vulnerable, slightly neurotic, frequently ironic, always compelling. Brent Lang, Variety, 19 Apr. 2023 Israel failing to stop attacks on Christians, Jerusalem churches say It’s reached the point where the lack of volunteers strains the safety net that nonprofits provide to many of society’s most vulnerable. Thalia Beaty And Glenn Gamboa, The Christian Science Monitor, 17 Apr. 2023 Most pressing, how can the city address the stretch that runs from the Dallas Arboretum to the lake spillway, where pedestrians are especially vulnerable? Dallas police were unable to quickly provide accident totals for the area; The Dallas Morning News archives included several recent fatalities. Sharon Grigsby, Dallas News, 14 Apr. 2023 Whatever the reason, Frannie outlasted Brandon, left Matt vulnerable, and he was voted out. Dalton Ross,, 13 Apr. 2023 See More

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 2 Jun. 2023.

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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