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

Very young people and very old people are more vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat and are considered high-risk. Andres Picon,, "7 tips for staying cool in this horrible heat," 5 July 2018 The human voice is frail and vulnerable and honest. Recode Staff, Recode, "The New York Times’ The Daily podcast host Michael Barbaro talks with Kara Swisher," 29 June 2018 Gong said most church leaders are concerned for children, women and those who are vulnerable and said Mormon parents can be confident that their children are safe. Brady Mccombs, Fox News, "New Mormon leaders bring diversity, new perspectives," 28 June 2018 Three of them who are especially vulnerable — Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Manchin — voted for Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation. Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, "How Will the SCOTUS Confirmation Fight Affect the Midterms?," 28 June 2018 Children, especially vulnerable and at-risk students, need strong relationships and guidance. Emily Himes, miamiherald, "She was homeless and in high school. Through this program, she got a major boost.," 27 June 2018 Making a movie that's based on some of the most intimate, vulnerable and contemptible moments of your life is an ambitious undertaking — even more so if its cast includes your own dog. Ashley Lee,, "‘Boundaries’ director Shana Feste has a message for male critics about her dogs, dad and pot movie," 25 June 2018 Younger birds are more vulnerable and less likely to survive in the wild than older ones, but older birds could crowd the nest and attract predators. National Geographic, "Birds That Leave Nest Too Late Can Endanger Their Families," 25 June 2018 The country remains incredibly divided, newly vulnerable and dealing with an irreversible psychic change about its place in the world. Georgina Voss, The Atlantic, "Brexit Could Cripple Britain’s Ports," 20 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

14 Sep 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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