con·​text ˈkän-ˌtekst How to pronounce context (audio)
: the parts of a discourse that surround a word or passage and can throw light on its meaning
: the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs : environment, setting
the historical context of the war
contextless adjective
kän-ˈteks-chə-wəl How to pronounce context (audio)
contextually adverb

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Context, in Context

In its earliest uses (documented in the 15th century), context meant "the weaving together of words in language." This sense, now obsolete, developed logically from the word's source in Latin, contexere "to weave or join together." Context now most commonly refers to the environment or setting in which something (whether words or events) exists. When we say that something is contextualized, we mean that it is placed in an appropriate setting, one in which it may be properly considered.

Examples of context in a Sentence

… it was Dickens who first used the word 'detective' in a literary context John Mullan, How Novels Work, 2006
Entrepreneurship and civil freedoms depend on a context of civil order, predictability, and individual security. Susan L. Woodward, Balkan Tragedy, 1995
… the old building, its original acre, inside its high outer wall, was immune to change, out of context and out of time. Harriet Doerr, The Tiger in the Grass, 1995
We need to look at the event within the larger context of world history. The book puts these events in their proper historical and social contexts. We need to consider these events in context. See More
Recent Examples on the Web This lack of context is the challenge in keeping unprecedentedly high volumes of unstructured data that companies want to retain for insights and analysis. Jamie Lerner, Forbes, 20 Feb. 2024 These cultural factors play out in a context of constant threat. Shashank Joshi, Foreign Affairs, 20 Feb. 2024 The context of how it was created is crucial for the artist. Callum Sutherland, CNN, 19 Feb. 2024 But the very existence of dark matter is only ever discussed in the context of an expanding universe, leading some to question whether there are other causes of expansion. Bradford Betz, Fox News, 19 Feb. 2024 Thanks to this intact historical context, the story emerging here promises to shed new light on the end of the Etruscan period, a turning point in history as dominion over the central Italian peninsula transitioned from the Etruscans to the Romans. Elizabeth Heath, Discover Magazine, 17 Feb. 2024 Without context, language, and explanation, a common feeling like anger or fear is just a chemical spill inside your skin. Nell Frizzell, Vogue, 17 Feb. 2024 While the members of your staff don’t have all the context for why you were forced to make this decision, they are entitled to their feelings, which are largely born of fear and sadness. Roxane Gay, New York Times, 17 Feb. 2024 While this may have felt permissible in any other context, its presentation alongside the movie’s Ukrainian subjects — who have no such option to escape their circumstances — verges on betrayal, and momentarily renders her commentary futile. Siddhant Adlakha, Variety, 16 Feb. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'context.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English contexte "text, composition," borrowed from Medieval Latin contextus "sequence, connection, setting," going back to Latin, "action of weaving, connection, coherence, ordered scheme, structure," from contexere "to weave together, connect (words), compose, combine" (from con- con- + texere "to weave, construct") + -tus, suffix of action nouns — more at technical entry 1

First Known Use

circa 1568, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of context was circa 1568

Dictionary Entries Near context

Cite this Entry

“Context.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


con·​text ˈkän-ˌtekst How to pronounce context (audio)
: the parts of something written or spoken that are near a certain word or group of words and that help to explain its meaning
contextual adjective

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