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.

Example Sentences

… 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 These provide the context and the medium for the actions of the individual. IEEE Spectrum, 1 Mar. 2023 Their expertise provides crucial context, helping every traveler connect their individual experiences to the larger historical picture. Roger Sands, Forbes, 20 Feb. 2023 The book focuses on the Astros' infamous sign-stealing scandal, but also provides context surrounding an issue that was hardly limited to a single MLB club. Josh Criswell, Chron, 17 Feb. 2023 Like Davis, Schmidt said that the findings provided important context for what is happening at the Thwaites glacier. Dharna Noor,, 17 Feb. 2023 Unlike English and French war memoirists, Jünger made no attempt to provide context for the violence, no attempt to pass judgment. Thomas Meaney, Harper’s Magazine , 16 Feb. 2023 Mangold says the sequence isn’t just a fun throwback but provides more meaningful context to the character for the rest of the film. James Hibberd, The Hollywood Reporter, 14 Feb. 2023 The inclusion of the videos to activate the space support this goal and provided enhanced visual context. San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 Feb. 2023 Meanwhile, the series also looks inward at the fractured communities and generational trauma that led to this tipping point, providing historical context for the MMIW crisis and how women have been ripped away from their people for years. Amber Dowling, Variety, 2 Feb. 2023 See More

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

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 27 Mar. 2023.

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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