algorithm

noun
al·​go·​rithm | \ ˈal-gə-ˌri-t͟həm How to pronounce algorithm (audio) \

Essential Meaning of algorithm

technical : a set of steps that are followed in order to solve a mathematical problem or to complete a computer process

Full Definition of algorithm

: a procedure for solving a mathematical problem (as of finding the greatest common divisor) in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation broadly : a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end There are several search engines, with Google, Yahoo and Bing being the biggest players. Each search engine has its own proprietary computation (called an "algorithm") that ranks websites for each keyword or combination of keywords. — Julie Brinton … sometimes you solve a problem by coming up with an algorithm of some kind. But sometimes you solve a problem in a very ad hoc sort of way. — William H. Huggins

Other Words from algorithm

algorithmic \ ˌal-​gə-​ˈrit͟h-​mik How to pronounce algorithm (audio) \ adjective
algorithmically \ ˌal-​gə-​ˈrit͟h-​mi-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce algorithm (audio) \ adverb

What Does algorithm Mean?

The current term of choice for a problem-solving procedure, algorithm, is commonly used nowadays for the set of rules a machine (and especially a computer) follows to achieve a particular goal. It does not always apply to computer-mediated activity, however. The term may as accurately be used of the steps followed in making a pizza or solving a Rubik’s Cube as for computer-powered data analysis.

Algorithm is often paired with words specifying the activity for which a set of rules have been designed. A search algorithm, for example, is a procedure that determines what kind of information is retrieved from a large mass of data. An encryption algorithm is a set of rules by which information or messages are encoded so that unauthorized persons cannot read them.

Though first attested in the early 20th century (and, until recently, used strictly as a term of mathematics and computing), algorithm has a surprisingly deep history. It was formed from algorism “the system of Arabic numerals,” a word that goes back to Middle English and ultimately stems from the name of a 9th-century Persian mathematician, abu-Jaʽfar Mohammed ibn-Mūsa al-Khuwārizmi, who did important work in the fields of algebra and numeric systems.

Examples of algorithm in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Samarth Mahapatra from Marietta, Georgia, took second place for a computer algorithm that helps visually impaired people cook. Washington Post, 24 Oct. 2021 But training such a cutting-edge AI algorithm costs several million dollars. Will Knight, Wired, 14 Oct. 2021 The hope is to create a machine-learning algorithm that could automatically detect dangerous objects before a plane rolls over them at high-speed. Jeremy Kahn, Fortune, 12 Oct. 2021 Without companies’ answers, the SBA has developed a machine-learning algorithm that flags loans for signs of potential fraud, such as payroll numbers that don’t add up. Lydia Depillis, ProPublica, 23 Sep. 2021 Their strategy is called a random greedy algorithm, and it’s been used to solve many other problems in the area of combinatorics. Quanta Magazine, 21 Sep. 2021 Prosecutors said technology powered by a secret algorithm that analyzed noises detected by the sensors indicated Williams shot and killed the man. chicagotribune.com, 20 Aug. 2021 The new record is enabled by a supercomputer running a specialized algorithm. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, 18 Aug. 2021 Our reality can be warped because it’s based on a personalized algorithm. Harper's BAZAAR, 10 Aug. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'algorithm.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of algorithm

1926, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for algorithm

alteration of Middle English algorisme, from Old French & Medieval Latin; Old French, from Medieval Latin algorismus, from Arabic al-khuwārizmi, from al-Khwārizmī flourished a.d. 825 Islamic mathematician

Buying Guide

Our team at The Usage has selected the best gaming headsets of 2021.

Learn More About algorithm

Time Traveler for algorithm

Time Traveler

The first known use of algorithm was in 1926

See more words from the same year

Dictionary Entries Near algorithm

algorist

algorithm

algorithmics

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for algorithm

Last Updated

30 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Algorithm.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/algorithm. Accessed 1 Dec. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More from Merriam-Webster on algorithm

Nglish: Translation of algorithm for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of algorithm for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about algorithm

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Difficult Spelling Words Quiz

  • alphabet pasta spelling help
  • Which is the correct spelling?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!