mo·​di·​cum ˈmä-di-kəm How to pronounce modicum (audio)
 also  ˈmō-
: a small portion : a limited quantity
had only a modicum of mathematical skills

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The Origins of Modicum Can Be Found in the Bathroom

What does modicum have to do with a toilet? It just so happens that modicum shares the same Latin parent as commode, which is a synonym of toilet. Modicum and commode ultimately derive from the Latin noun modus, which means "measure." (We borrowed the noun commode from the French, who also used the word as an adjective meaning "suitable, convenient.") Modicum, which, logically enough, refers to a small "measure" of something, has been a part of the English language since the 15th century. It descends from the Latin modicus ("moderate"), which is itself a descendant of modus. Modus really measures up as a Latin root—it also gave us mode (originally a kind of musical "measure"), modal, model, modern, modify, and modulate. More distant relatives include mete, moderate, and modest.

Examples of modicum in a Sentence

only a modicum of skill is necessary to put the kit together
Recent Examples on the Web Even the repetitive cutaways to barnyard animals are done with a modicum of comedic and artistic panache. Courtney Howard, Variety, 7 Sep. 2023 Like England, Spain’s success demonstrates not only how central a robust club game is to the health of a national team, but also what great strides can be made in a short space of time in women’s soccer with even a modicum of investment and purpose. Rory Smith, New York Times, 19 Aug. 2023 The science of birds and their conservation should be interesting to anyone with a modicum of intellectual curiosity, but the world abounds with things to be curious about. Jonathan Franzen, The New Yorker, 12 Aug. 2023 Some modicum of security must be returned to Port-au-Prince streets for any lasting solutions to take hold. Matt Rivers, ABC News, 31 July 2023 Engineers and web developers scratched their heads — a modicum of planning could have avoided a kind of amateurish outcome. Brian Merchant, Los Angeles Times, 26 July 2023 In 1800, Harry, by then around 60 years old and one of Freetown’s more successful farmers, was arrested and tried with approximately two dozen others after participating in a meeting of settlers lobbying for the modicum of self-determination they had been promised. Francine Uenuma, Smithsonian Magazine, 14 June 2023 The same is true in Iraq and Syria, places where a Turkish presence helps Washington maintain a modicum of influence. Asli Aydintasbas, Foreign Affairs, 11 Aug. 2023 The postmortem spin has been that getting two bills—one focused on crypto-market-structure oversight, the other on stablecoins—out of the House Financial Services Committee, with a modicum of bipartisan support, was a major win. Byleo Schwartz, Fortune Crypto, 2 Aug. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'modicum.' 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, from Latin, neuter of modicus moderate, from modus measure

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of modicum was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near modicum

Cite this Entry

“Modicum.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Oct. 2023.

Kids Definition


mo·​di·​cum ˈmäd-i-kəm How to pronounce modicum (audio)
: a small amount
anyone with a modicum of intelligence would understand

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