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 vulnerability (audio) \ noun
vulnerableness \ ˈvəl-​n(ə-​)rə-​bəl-​nəs How to pronounce vulnerableness (audio) , ˈvəl-​nər-​bəl-​ \ noun
vulnerably \ ˈvəl-​n(ə-​)rə-​blē How to pronounce vulnerably (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 Even ultra-tough water bears are vulnerable to climate change Water bears, or tardigrades, are known for being the toughest creatures on earth. Alex Baker-whitcomb, Wired, "A Smart Contact Lens, Trouble for Water Bears, and More News," 16 Jan. 2020 But Biden, a former Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman, is also vulnerable on this front, particularly due to his 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq War resolution. Caitlin Conant, CBS News, "2020 Daily Trail Markers: Warren and Sanders set to take the gloves off at Tuesday's debate," 13 Jan. 2020 Siemens' decision to stick it out in Australia leaves it vulnerable to charges its carbon neutrality claims are little more than empty greenwashing. Christiaan Hetzner, Fortune, "Forget Policymakers. Greta Thunberg and Her Allies are Targeting CEOs Now," 13 Jan. 2020 Among the city’s poorest and most vulnerable, tanker shenanigans have fueled some of the worst urban water access in the world. Peter Schwartzstein, New York Times, "The Merchants of Thirst," 11 Jan. 2020 People over 65 are the most vulnerable to complications from a flu infection, so the fewer of them get sick, the fewer of them will die. oregonlive, "The flu: It is here, and you should get vaccinated," 11 Jan. 2020 Other letters were vulnerable, heartbreakingly tender. Douglas Stuart, The New Yorker, "Found Wanting," 6 Jan. 2020 While handsome Tom Brady finally seems vulnerable at age 42, the vacuum of power is rapidly being filled. Mark Kiszla, The Denver Post, "Kiszla: Broncos rookie Drew Lock can bust a rhyme and beat the Raiders, but can he become elite NFL quarterback?," 29 Dec. 2019 That is an important argument, and Kayla, ambitious and vulnerable and fictional, expresses it well. Megan Garber, The Atlantic, "The Most Powerful Scene in Bombshell," 23 Dec. 2019

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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Statistics for vulnerable

Last Updated

19 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Vulnerable.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 19 January 2020.

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More Definitions for vulnerable


How to pronounce vulnerable (audio)

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 vulnerability (audio) \ noun, plural vulnerabilities

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Comments on vulnerable

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to insert between existing elements

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