tem·​po ˈtem-(ˌ)pō How to pronounce tempo (audio)
plural tempi ˈtem-(ˌ)pē How to pronounce tempo (audio) or tempos
: the rate of speed of a musical piece or passage indicated by one of a series of directions (such as largo, presto, or allegro) and often by an exact metronome marking
: rate of motion or activity : pace

Examples of tempo in a Sentence

The song has a slow tempo. The composition has many changes of tempo. We walked at a fast tempo. The tempo of the game slowed down. The dance starts out fast and then switches tempo.
Recent Examples on the Web The steady tempo of Morrison’s performance is friendly as a church convocation. Armond White, National Review, 10 Nov. 2023 As the tempo rose, a perimeter of cellphone screens formed around them. Aatish Taseer, New York Times, 9 Nov. 2023 And the tempo of the song starts out slow but then gets very fast very quickly … boom boom boom. Barbra Streisand, Vulture, 7 Nov. 2023 However, what sets the tempo of an organism’s growth has remained a mystery. Quanta Magazine, 18 Sep. 2023 Texas Tech runs an up tempo offense that led the country in plays last season, has a 6-foot-5 vertical threat, speedy slot receiver and 6-foot-9 tight end. oregonlive, 8 Sep. 2023 Pushing the tempo has allowed Dallas’ offense to flourish. Doyle Rader, Forbes, 13 Nov. 2023 But in both cases, the aircraft went down during the kinds of joint exercises that have become more common, more intense and more complicated in recent years as the United States has stepped up its military tempo in the Indo-Pacific in an effort to deter Chinese aggression in the region. Damien Cave, New York Times, 27 Aug. 2023 The lab’s research has prompted multiple recent patches from Apple outside its regular tempo of updates. Joseph Menn, Washington Post, 23 Sep. 2023 See More

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

Word History


borrowed from Italian, "time, rate of speed (in music)," going back to Latin tempor-, tempus "time, period of time, season," of uncertain origin

Note: If it originally meant "extent, measure" (hence, "extent of time"), Latin tempus could go back to an s-stem noun *temp-es- derived from an Indo-European verb base *temp- "stretch, extend," seen in Lithuanian tempiù, tem͂pti "to stretch, bend (a bow)," tìmpa "sinew, bowstring," Tocharian A & B cämp- "be able to" (if "stretch, exert effort" > "exert sufficient effort, be able"), and perhaps Old Norse þǫmb "womb, guts, bowstring." Though these are possibilities, the sum of comparable evidence for the etymon is not overwhelming.

First Known Use

circa 1724, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of tempo was circa 1724

Dictionary Entries Near tempo

Cite this Entry

“Tempo.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tempo. Accessed 9 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


tem·​po ˈtem-pō How to pronounce tempo (audio)
plural tempi -pē How to pronounce tempo (audio) or tempos
: the rate of speed at which a musical piece or passage is to be played or sung
: rate of motion or activity

More from Merriam-Webster on tempo

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