The word word has a wide range of meanings and uses in English. Yet one of the most often looked for pieces of information regarding word is not something that would be found in its definition. Instead, it is some variant of the question, What makes a word a real word?
One of the most prolific areas of change and variation in English is vocabulary; new words are constantly being coined to name or describe new inventions or innovations, or to better identify aspects of our rapidly changing world. Constraints of time, money, and staff would make it impossible for any dictionary, no matter how large, to capture a fully comprehensive account of all the words in the language. And even if such a leviathan reference was somehow fashioned, the dictionary would be obsolete the instant it was published as speakers and writers continued generating new terms to meet their constantly changing needs.
Most general English dictionaries are designed to include only those words that meet certain criteria of usage across wide areas and over extended periods of time (for more details about how words are chosen for dictionary entry, read "How does a word get into a Merriam-Webster dictionary?" in our FAQ). As a result, they may omit words that are still in the process of becoming established, those that are too highly specialized, or those that are so informal that they are rarely documented in professionally edited writing. But the words left out are as real as those that gain entry; the former simply haven't met the criteria for dictionary entry–at least not yet (newer ones may ultimately gain admission to the dictionary's pages if they gain sufficient use).
However, in preparing your own writings, it is worth remembering that the dictionary encompasses the most widely used terms in English. Words that are left out may have usage limited to specific, isolated, or informal contexts, so they should be used carefully.
How do you spell that word?
“Please” is a useful word.
Our teacher often used words I didn't know.
What is the French word for car?
Describe the experience in your own words.
The lawyer used Joe's words against him.
She gave the word to begin.
We will wait for your word before we serve dinner. Verb
Could we word the headline differently?
tried to word the declaration exactly right See More
Recent Examples on the Web
Greenblatt didn’t mince words, according to those in attendance, calling out the Writers Guild of America for refusing to issue a statement after the Hamas attacks.—Tatiana Siegel, Variety, 21 Nov. 2023 There’s no word yet on when the second season of courtroom anthology Accused will air.—Rick Porter, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Nov. 2023 Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games.—Liam Dillon, Los Angeles Times, 20 Nov. 2023 Nor do those who put on shows in which the point is to listen to the words.—Jacobina Martin, Washington Post, 20 Nov. 2023 But this word 'genocide' is getting thrown around in a pretty inappropriate way by lots of different folks.—Brady Knox, Washington Examiner, 20 Nov. 2023 In the snap, Nicola posed in an oversized white T-shirt with Victoria's image on the front and the words, ‘POSH’ printed in big block letters.—Escher Walcott, Peoplemag, 20 Nov. 2023 If White does opt to continue the storyline, Coolidge has some choice words for the fate of her on-screen husband.—Abby Montanez, Robb Report, 20 Nov. 2023 Inbar: What is most important, and people do not realize it, is that all Rabin’s intelligence officers, including the chief of intelligence, told him in not so many words, The Palestinians are preparing for war.—Emily Bazelon, New York Times, 20 Nov. 2023
In 2000, Judge Barry wrote the majority opinion in an appeals court decision striking down a New Jersey ban on late-term abortions, saying it was vaguely worded and placed an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to privacy in medical decision making.—Maggie Haberman, New York Times, 13 Nov. 2023 London's police said that two of the people were arrested for wording on a banner displayed during the protest.—Sarah Rumpf-Whitten, Fox News, 5 Nov. 2023 Updates from the Israel Defense Forces are vaguely worded and Hamas has ordered Gazans not to publish information on military movements.—Loveday Morris, Washington Post, 2 Nov. 2023 The Post-Schar School poll used a randomized question wording experiment to see how much support for policies varied when framed as providing permission for trans students to do various things versus placing restrictions on their actions.—Emily Guskin, Washington Post, 22 Oct. 2023 Gmail’s existing bulk sender rules advise senders to keep their spam output below 0.3 percent, but this is currently worded as a recommendation.—Jess Weatherbed, The Verge, 3 Oct. 2023 Under the broad and vaguely worded legislation, any politician who is not a patriot to Beijing has been purged or punished by the government.—Alexandra Stevenson, New York Times, 21 Sep. 2023 The temporary misunderstanding resulted from how the letter and statements were worded and presented, along with some shifts in financing for the border project.—Michael Smolens, San Diego Union-Tribune, 15 Sep. 2023 The brief and carefully worded statement matter-of-factly shot down several of the leading medical theories for what might be wrong with Mr. McConnell, including a seizure disorder, stroke and Parkinson’s disease.—Kayla Guo, New York Times, 15 Sep. 2023 See More
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'word.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old High German wort word, Latin verbum, Greek eirein to say, speak, Hittite weriya- to call, name
First Known Use
before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2b