The word word has a wide range of meanings and uses in English. Yet one of the most often looked for pieces of information regarding word is not something that would be found in its definition. Instead, it is some variant of the question, What makes a word a real word?
One of the most prolific areas of change and variation in English is vocabulary; new words are constantly being coined to name or describe new inventions or innovations, or to better identify aspects of our rapidly changing world. Constraints of time, money, and staff would make it impossible for any dictionary, no matter how large, to capture a fully comprehensive account of all the words in the language. And even if such a leviathan reference was somehow fashioned, the dictionary would be obsolete the instant it was published as speakers and writers continued generating new terms to meet their constantly changing needs.
Most general English dictionaries are designed to include only those words that meet certain criteria of usage across wide areas and over extended periods of time (for more details about how words are chosen for dictionary entry, read "How does a word get into a Merriam-Webster dictionary?" in our FAQ). As a result, they may omit words that are still in the process of becoming established, those that are too highly specialized, or those that are so informal that they are rarely documented in professionally edited writing. But the words left out are as real as those that gain entry; the former simply haven't met the criteria for dictionary entry–at least not yet (newer ones may ultimately gain admission to the dictionary's pages if they gain sufficient use).
However, in preparing your own writings, it is worth remembering that the dictionary encompasses the most widely used terms in English. Words that are left out may have usage limited to specific, isolated, or informal contexts, so they should be used carefully.
How do you spell that word?
“Please” is a useful word.
Our teacher often used words I didn't know.
What is the French word for car?
Describe the experience in your own words.
The lawyer used Joe's words against him.
She gave the word to begin.
We will wait for your word before we serve dinner. Verb
Could we word the headline differently?
tried to word the declaration exactly right See More
Recent Examples on the Web
Put the stories together and the most common words are economy, inflation, violence, crime, better life.—Matt Rivers, ABC News, 22 Sep. 2023 In my world, words and pictures are one and the same.—Laird Borrelli-Persson, Vogue, 22 Sep. 2023 That simple word, for her, meant exercising the very capacity to do something new, to change the rules, upend the board, and be unpredictable.—WIRED, 22 Sep. 2023 Few entrepreneurs have had a bigger impact on public life across the world, and allow us on the occasion to say a word about his role at the Wall Street Journal.—The Editorial Board, WSJ, 21 Sep. 2023 Wenner’s words reflect the institutional hold entities like the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and even Rolling Stone magazine have on the music industry.—Char Adams, NBC News, 21 Sep. 2023 Pendergrass says those words are especially aggravating when they’re spoken by citizens from her own race.—Tyrone Beason, Los Angeles Times, 21 Sep. 2023 Those words led to an immediate epiphany for the singer.—Tomás Mier, Rolling Stone, 21 Sep. 2023 Named after the Turkish word for stingray, Vatoz is designed to move through water like a sea creature with minimal impact on the surrounding environment.—Rachel Cormack, Robb Report, 21 Sep. 2023
Under the broad and vaguely worded legislation, any politician who is not a patriot to Beijing has been purged or punished by the government.—Alexandra Stevenson, New York Times, 21 Sep. 2023 The temporary misunderstanding resulted from how the letter and statements were worded and presented, along with some shifts in financing for the border project.—Michael Smolens, San Diego Union-Tribune, 15 Sep. 2023 The brief and carefully worded statement matter-of-factly shot down several of the leading medical theories for what might be wrong with Mr. McConnell, including a seizure disorder, stroke and Parkinson’s disease.—Kayla Guo, New York Times, 15 Sep. 2023 The statutes might be worded differently but generally allow a person to use force without fear of prosecution in response to a threat in a place where the individual has a right to be, including but not limited to a home.—Sara Smart, CNN, 28 Aug. 2023 Although the statement does not state a reason for ceasing operations, it is worded in such a way as to imply that the causes were financial.—Mary Carole McCauley, Baltimore Sun, 13 Aug. 2023 Read full article The exchange of words began Friday evening when Trump posted a message on Truth Social, his social media platform, issuing a vague but strongly worded threat.—Alan Feuer, BostonGlobe.com, 5 Aug. 2023 The comment, which appeared to have been carefully worded to avoid breaching Russia’s strict laws banning criticism of the war, said the damage to the bridge would create military supply issues.—John Hudson, Robyn Dixon and David L. Stern, Anchorage Daily News, 27 July 2023 The comment, which appeared to have been carefully worded to avoid breaching Russia’s strict laws banning criticism of the war, said that the attack on the bridge would create military supply issues.—David L. Stern, Washington Post, 26 July 2023 See More
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'word.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old High German wort word, Latin verbum, Greek eirein to say, speak, Hittite weriya- to call, name
First Known Use
before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2b