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

In addition, Amazon is always vulnerable to other online sellers that can take advantage of their skills in niche markets. Richard A. Epstein, WSJ, "‘The Curse of Bigness’ Review: Revisiting the Gilded Age," 2 Dec. 2018 Modern planes may be multi-million dollar miracles of engineering able to jet to the other side of the world in a single fuel-up, but their highly technical operations are still vulnerable to the whims of the original masters of the sky: birds. Cynthia Drescher, Condé Nast Traveler, "How Airports Keep Birds Away," 5 Nov. 2018 In recent cybersecurity tests run by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), major weapons systems under development at the Department of Defense (DOD) are very vulnerable to hacking. David Grossman, Popular Mechanics, "New Report Finds DOD "Could Be Pretty Easily Hacked"," 9 Oct. 2018 And theoretically, China is more vulnerable because of the $375 billion trade imbalance that has long irked Trump. Paul Davidson, USA TODAY, "Trade wars are damaging, so why is Trump fighting one with China?," 13 July 2018 The Medscape survey found far less serious behavior — after all, physicians rarely are as vulnerable as patients may be — but does shine a light on a difficult workplace situation, especially for women clinicians. Mary Bernard,, "Doctors report high rates of sexual harassment by patients, survey finds," 12 July 2018 But officials said the process could take months, and the building would remain vulnerable in the meantime. Jamie Halper,, "Roxbury church gets new chance at preservation," 11 July 2018 Behind his mesmerizing crooning is his unassuming, relatable underdog status, and his self-deprecating quips reveal a self-aware man with a willingness to be openly vulnerable. Lizzie Manno, Billboard, "Matt Maltese: The Apocalyptic British Singer-Songwriter That America Desperately Needs," 10 July 2018 The lizards are vulnerable to being stunned by cooler weather, rendering them rigid and prone to dropping from trees. Kevin Spear,, "Iguana invasion: Could Orlando could be next?," 5 July 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

7 Dec 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

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to enclose within walls

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