tra·​jec·​to·​ry | \ trə-ˈjek-t(ə-)rē How to pronounce trajectory (audio) \
plural trajectories

Definition of trajectory

1 : the curve that a body (such as a planet or comet in its orbit or a rocket) describes in space
2 : a path, progression, or line of development resembling a physical trajectory an upward career trajectory

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Formed with part of the prefix trans-, "across", trajectory means a "hurling across". By calculating the effect of gravity and other forces, the trajectory of an object launched into space at a known speed can be computed precisely. Missiles stand a chance of hitting their target only if their trajectory has been plotted accurately. The word is used most often in physics and engineering, but not always; we can also say, for example, that the trajectory of a whole life may be set in a person's youth, or that a new book traces the long trajectory of the French empire.

Examples of trajectory in a Sentence

the trajectory of the missile
Recent Examples on the Web There was a Cooper’s hawk and then a sharp-shinned hawk, each appearing to contemplate their trajectory or considering a mouse meal on the ground. Jill Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle, 18 Oct. 2021 What are those things that, if solved, would clear your path and change your trajectory? Jodie Cook, Forbes, 18 Oct. 2021 As the Big Five tech companies (Google parent Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft) spiraled ever higher, a lot of investors became convinced that their upward trajectory had no limit. Larry Light, Fortune, 14 Oct. 2021 All four passengers were free to unstrap and float about as the capsule reached the top of its trajectory and arced over for the long fall back to Earth. William Harwood, CBS News, 13 Oct. 2021 At a news conference, Laguna Beach and state officials also provided more details on efforts to manage the spill and its possible trajectory. Justin Ray, Los Angeles Times, 5 Oct. 2021 The prize’s recent history doesn’t offer much insight into its trajectory—the past few years offer a muddle of competing ideas. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 5 Oct. 2021 Trainor also described her relationship trajectory with Sabara. Jenny Singer, Glamour, 2 Oct. 2021 Fiat sold only 401 vehicles in the quarter, continuing its downward trajectory. Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press, 2 Oct. 2021

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

1696, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for trajectory

New Latin trajectoria, from feminine of trajectorius of passing, from Latin traicere to cause to cross, cross, from trans-, tra- trans- + jacere to throw — more at jet

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Time Traveler for trajectory

Time Traveler

The first known use of trajectory was in 1696

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Last Updated

22 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Trajectory.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for trajectory



English Language Learners Definition of trajectory

: the curved path along which something (such as a rocket) moves through the air or through space


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