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ten·​or ˈte-nər How to pronounce tenor (audio)
: the highest natural adult male singing voice
also : a person having this voice
: the voice part next to the lowest in a 4-part chorus
: a member of a family of instruments having a range next lower than that of the alto
: the melodic line usually forming the cantus firmus in medieval music
: the drift of something spoken or written : purport
: an exact copy of a writing : transcript
: the concept, object, or person meant in a metaphor
: a continuance in a course, movement, or activity
: habitual condition : character


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: relating to or having the range or part of a tenor
Choose the Right Synonym for tenor

tendency, trend, drift, tenor, current mean movement in a particular direction.

tendency implies an inclination sometimes amounting to an impelling force.

a general tendency toward inflation

trend applies to the general direction maintained by a winding or irregular course.

the long-term trend of the stock market is upward

drift may apply to a tendency determined by external forces

the drift of the population away from large cities

or it may apply to an underlying or obscure trend of meaning or discourse.

got the drift of her argument

tenor stresses a clearly perceptible direction and a continuous, undeviating course.

the tenor of the times

current implies a clearly defined but not necessarily unalterable course.

an encounter that changed the current of my life

Examples of tenor in a Sentence

Noun He has a high, lilting tenor. She asked the tenors to sing the line again. The tenor of his remarks is clear. Adjective Verdi wrote some difficult tenor parts. She plays the tenor sax.
Recent Examples on the Web
If the spirit is willing, the skill set on tap falls short of reincarnating those cult classics’ uniquely outré tenor. Dennis Harvey, Variety, 26 Oct. 2023 Sign up Since then, there has been a dramatic shift in the tenor of local politics in Douglas County. Matt Ford, The New Republic, 11 Oct. 2023 Public outcry ensued; the main tenor of the criticism was that Usher, at 28, was still too young to become a family man. Danielle Amir Jackson Malike Sidibe, New York Times, 11 Oct. 2023 The child of pastors who’d honed his skills singing in a church choir, Sech rose up the industry ranks quickly, winning over fans with the sweetness of his tenor. Julyssa Lopez, Rolling Stone, 25 Sep. 2023 The group particularly needs lead singers in the second tenor voice range. Linda McIntosh, San Diego Union-Tribune, 22 Sep. 2023 While the tenor Joseph Dennis is affable in the role, his chemistry with D’Angelo is nil. Zachary Woolfe, New York Times, 29 Oct. 2023 Two books, both by English tenors and both on the nature of song. Eric Felten, WSJ, 5 Oct. 2023 Over the past decade, Dan + Shay’s Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney have won multiple Grammys and scored a string of Billboard Country Airplay chart-toppers with their melodic ballads, bolstered by Smyers’ lush production and Mooney’s otherworldly tenor. Jessica Nicholson, Billboard, 14 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tenor.' 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 tenor, tenoure, tenure "main point of a document, intent of a legal agreement, continued presence or sustained course, part carrying the cantus firmus melody in contrapuntal music," borrowed from Anglo-French & Medieval Latin; Anglo-French tenur, tenure "import of a document," borrowed from Medieval Latin tenōr-, tenor "sustained course, continuity, condition, drift of a law or document, tone of the voice, cantus firmus melody in contrapuntal music," going back to Latin, "sustained course, continuity, tone of the voice," from tenēre "to hold, possess" + -ōr-, -or, going back to *-ōs-, deverbal noun suffix of state — more at tenant entry 1

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a


1522, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of tenor was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near tenor

Cite this Entry

“Tenor.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tenor. Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
ten·​or ˈten-ər How to pronounce tenor (audio)
: the general meaning of something spoken or written
the tenor of the book
: the next to lowest musical part in harmony for four parts compare alto sense 1b, bass entry 2 sense 1a, soprano entry 2 sense 1
: the highest natural adult male singing voice or a person who has such a voice
: a person or instrument performing a part next above a bass part
: a continuing in a course, movement, or activity
the tenor of my life


2 of 2 adjective
: relating to or having the range or part of a tenor
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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