dif·​fer·​en·​tial | \ ˌdi-fə-ˈren(t)-shəl How to pronounce differential (audio) \

Definition of differential

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : of, relating to, or constituting a difference : distinguishing differential characteristics
b : making a distinction between individuals or classes differential tax rates
c : based on or resulting from a differential
d : functioning or proceeding differently or at a different rate differential melting
2 mathematics : being, relating to, or involving a differential (see differential entry 2 sense 1) or differentiation
3 physics
a : relating to quantitative differences (as of motion or pressure)
b : producing effects by reason of quantitative differences



Definition of differential (Entry 2 of 2)

1 mathematics
a : the product (see product sense 1) of the derivative of a function of one variable by the increment of the independent variable
b : a sum of products in which each product consists of a partial derivative of a given function of several variables multiplied by the corresponding increment and which contains as many products as there are independent variables in the function
2 : a difference between comparable individuals or classes a price differential also : the amount of such a difference
3a : a drivetrain gear assembly connecting two collinear shafts or axles (such as those of the rear wheels of an automobile) and permitting one shaft to revolve faster than the other a locking rear differential
b : a case covering such an assembly

Other Words from differential


differentially \ ˌdi-​fə-​ˈren(t)-​shə-​lē How to pronounce differential (audio) \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for differential

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Adjective

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Examples of differential in a Sentence

Adjective did away with differential pay scales for men and women doing the same work
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective To make the predictions, Manabe had to solve nonlinear differential equations by brute force, a task that challenges supercomputers even today. The New Yorker, 10 Dec. 2021 Assessments of what went wrong suggest that the problem derived from differential non-response -- that is, that the people who took surveys were not the same politically as those who did not. Jennifer Agiesta, CNN, 10 Sep. 2021 With differential sea-level rise, some areas in the region are likely to be worse off. Sulagna Chattopadhyay, Quartz, 15 Dec. 2021 While the Census Bureau is required by law to keep individual responses private, for data from the 2020 census, the bureau is using a new technique called differential privacy to protect these responses. Geoff Hing, The Arizona Republic, 12 Aug. 2021 One specific challenge is called differential nonresponse: While a poll like The Post’s contacts a random sample of the population, different categories of people may respond at different rates. Washington Post, 29 Oct. 2021 Grzenda said the differential impact on gender minority adults may be because of the Trump administration’s targeting of transgender rights and protections in military service, health care and access to public facilities. NBC News, 12 Oct. 2021 At least one analysis suggests that differential privacy could penalize minority communities by undercounting areas that are racially and ethnically mixed. Mike Schneider, ajc, 31 Oct. 2021 At least one analysis suggests that differential privacy could penalize minority communities by undercounting areas that are racially and ethnically mixed. Mike Schneider, chicagotribune.com, 31 Oct. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Buffalo currently leads the league in point differential at +163. Rob Reischel, Forbes, 28 Dec. 2021 The Giants are a plus-4 in the last three games in the turnover differential. Mark Heim | Mheim@al.com, al, 22 Nov. 2021 The Hawks wrap up the trip next Tuesday against the Calgary Flames, who were fourth in the league in goal differential at plus-16 heading into Tuesday night’s schedule. Phil Thompson, chicagotribune.com, 16 Nov. 2021 The Sun Devils entered this week 15th in yards per play on offense, 32nd in yards per play on defense and 10th in yards per play differential against FBS opponents. Adam Burke Vsin, Los Angeles Times, 5 Nov. 2021 This is the Bulldogs’ biggest point differential 11 games into a season in school history. Mark Inabinett | Minabinett@al.com, al, 27 Nov. 2021 Hot air contains more energy than cold air and is less dense, so there's a pressure differential where the two areas mix. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, 8 Nov. 2021 Based upon the total 16,350 votes cast, the one-half of 1 percent recount benchmark is an 81-vote differential. Brian Lisik, cleveland, 5 Nov. 2021 But the Cowboys' offense is far more consistent than what New York is throwing out and there is a significant talent differential. Jeremy Cluff, The Arizona Republic, 4 Oct. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'differential.' 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 differential


1615, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1871, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for differential


borrowed from Medieval Latin differentiālis, from Latin differentia difference entry 1 + -ālis -al entry 1


noun derivative of differential entry 1

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Time Traveler for differential

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The first known use of differential was in 1615

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Dictionary Entries Near differential



differential analyzer

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Statistics for differential

Last Updated

10 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Differential.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/differential. Accessed 19 Jan. 2022.

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More Definitions for differential



English Language Learners Definition of differential

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: relating to or based on a difference : treating some people or groups differently from others



English Language Learners Definition of differential (Entry 2 of 2)

: a difference between people or things
: a gear or an arrangement of gears in a vehicle that allows one wheel to turn faster than another when the vehicle is going around a curve


dif·​fer·​en·​tial | \ ˌdif-ə-ˈren-chəl How to pronounce differential (audio) \

Medical Definition of differential

1 : of, relating to, or constituting a difference differential birth rates in different economic levels
2 : making a distinction between individuals or classes differential cell counts differential staining

Other Words from differential

differentially \ -​ˈrench-​(ə-​)lē How to pronounce differential (audio) \ adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on differential

Nglish: Translation of differential for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of differential for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about differential


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