vul·ner·a·ble | \ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl, 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 \ noun
vulnerableness \ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl-nəs, ˈvəl-nər-bəl- \ noun
vulnerably \ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-blē, 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

But the more vulnerable WTO is fast approaching a moment of crisis from which there may be no return, with the U.S. threatening to unravel arrangements that have successfully insulated the global economy from chaotic trade wars for 70 years. Simon Nixon, WSJ, "Trump Puts the WTO on the Ropes," 11 July 2018 The website Road to 2018 has identified 12 especially vulnerable Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2018, including Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Madeleine Aggeler, The Cut, "What You Can Do to Fight Brett Kavanaugh’s Appointment to the Supreme Court," 10 July 2018 Many countries and local communities, especially those most vulnerable to climate change, have designed plans and begun to invest in adaptation. The Christian Science Monitor, "Thai cave rescue: a metaphor on climate adaptation," 9 July 2018 Six of the world’s seven species of sea turtle inhabit Indonesia’s waters, and all of them are classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. New York Times, "Saving Turtles in Bali, Egg by Precious Egg," 7 July 2018 Ahead of his July 11 Beat Kitchen show, Odie talked to RedEye about writing vulnerable (and catchy) songs. Hannah Steinkopf-frank, RedEye Chicago, "4 must-see concerts in Chicago this week: Janelle Monáe, Radiohead, Odie," 3 July 2018 Get vulnerable, ruthlessly honest, and be soft with yourself and the ones around you. Jodie Layne, Teen Vogue, "Mars Retrograde 2018: What You Need to Know," 26 June 2018 And the young people in that category, already vulnerable, felt especially rejected, betrayed, and deemed worthless. Peter Keough,, "In Focus: ‘Believer’ aims to convert the faithful," 21 June 2018 Her originaI compositions are hauntingly spiritual, vulnerable, and just wondrously beautiful. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader, "Drummer and composer Bill Harris on a Chicago iconoclast who can make an album feel like an epic film," 13 June 2018

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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Statistics for vulnerable

Last Updated

12 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for vulnerable

The first known use of vulnerable was circa 1616

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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 \

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 \

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 \ noun plural -ties

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Comments on vulnerable

What made you want to look up vulnerable? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to reject or criticize sharply

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