Word (computer architecture)

1 2 4 8 12 16 18 24 26 31 32 36 48 60 64 128 256 512
8 16 32 64
Binary floating-point precision
16 32 40 64 80 128 256
×½ ×1 ×2 ×4 ×8
Decimal floating-point precision
32 64 128

In computing, a word is the natural unit of data used by a particular processor design. A word is a fixed-sized piece of data handled as a unit by the instruction set or the hardware of the processor. The number of bits in a word (the word size, word width, or word length) is an important characteristic of any specific processor design or computer architecture.

The size of a word is reflected in many aspects of a computer's structure and operation; the majority of the registers in a processor are usually word sized and the largest piece of data that can be transferred to and from the working memory in a single operation is a word in many (not all) architectures. The largest possible address size, used to designate a location in memory, is typically a hardware word (here, "hardware word" means the full-sized natural word of the processor, as opposed to any other definition used).

Modern processors, including embedded systems, usually have a word size of 8, 16, 24, 32, or 64 bits, while modern general purpose computers usually use 32 or 64 bits. Special purpose digital processors, such as DSPs for instance, may use other sizes, and many other sizes have been used historically, including 9, 12,[1] 18, 24, 26, 36, 39, 40, 48, and 60 bits. Several of the earliest computers (and a few modern as well) used binary-coded decimal rather than plain binary, typically having a word size of 10 or 12 decimal digits, and some early decimal computers had no fixed word length at all.

The size of a word can sometimes differ from the expected due to backward compatibility with earlier computers. If multiple compatible variations or a family of processors share a common architecture and instruction set but differ in their word sizes, their documentation and software may become notationally complex to accommodate the difference (see Size families below).

Uses of words

Depending on how a computer is organized, word-size units may be used for:

Fixed point numbers
Holders for fixed point, usually integer, numerical values may be available in one or in several different sizes, but one of the sizes available will almost always be the word. The other sizes, if any, are likely to be multiples or fractions of the word size. The smaller sizes are normally used only for efficient use of memory; when loaded into the processor, their values usually go into a larger, word sized holder.
Floating point numbers
Holders for floating point numerical values are typically either a word or a multiple of a word.
Holders for memory addresses must be of a size capable of expressing the needed range of values but not be excessively large, so often the size used is the word though it can also be a multiple or fraction of the word size.
Processor registers are designed with a size appropriate for the type of data they hold, e.g. integers, floating point numbers or addresses. Many computer architectures use "general purpose registers" that can hold any of several types of data, these registers must be sized to hold the largest of the types, historically this is the word size of the architecture though increasingly special purpose, larger, registers have been added to deal with newer types.
Memory–processor transfer
When the processor reads from the memory subsystem into a register or writes a register's value to memory, the amount of data transferred is often a word. Historically, this amount of bits which could be transferred in one cycle was also called a catena in some environments (such as the Bull GAMMA 60 (fr)).[2][3] In simple memory subsystems, the word is transferred over the memory data bus, which typically has a width of a word or half-word. In memory subsystems that use caches, the word-sized transfer is the one between the processor and the first level of cache; at lower levels of the memory hierarchy larger transfers (which are a multiple of the word size) are normally used.
Unit of address resolution
In a given architecture, successive address values designate successive units of memory; this unit is the unit of address resolution. In most computers, the unit is either a character (e.g. a byte) or a word. (A few computers have used bit resolution.) If the unit is a word, then a larger amount of memory can be accessed using an address of a given size at the cost of added complexity to access individual characters. On the other hand, if the unit is a byte, then individual characters can be addressed (i.e. selected during the memory operation).
Machine instructions are normally the size of the architecture's word, such as in RISC architectures, or a multiple of the "char" size that is a fraction of it. This is a natural choice since instructions and data usually share the same memory subsystem. In Harvard architectures the word sizes of instructions and data need not be related, as instructions and data are stored in different memories; for example, the processor in the 1ESS electronic telephone switch had 37-bit instructions and 23-bit data words.

Word size choice

When a computer architecture is designed, the choice of a word size is of substantial importance. There are design considerations which encourage particular bit-group sizes for particular uses (e.g. for addresses), and these considerations point to different sizes for different uses. However, considerations of economy in design strongly push for one size, or a very few sizes related by multiples or fractions (submultiples) to a primary size. That preferred size becomes the word size of the architecture.

Character size was in the past (pre-variable-sized character encoding) one of the influences on unit of address resolution and the choice of word size. Before the mid-1960s, characters were most often stored in six bits; this allowed no more than 64 characters, so the alphabet was limited to upper case. Since it is efficient in time and space to have the word size be a multiple of the character size, word sizes in this period were usually multiples of 6 bits (in binary machines). A common choice then was the 36-bit word, which is also a good size for the numeric properties of a floating point format.

After the introduction of the IBM System/360 design, which used eight-bit characters and supported lower-case letters, the standard size of a character (or more accurately, a byte) became eight bits. Word sizes thereafter were naturally multiples of eight bits, with 16, 32, and 64 bits being commonly used.

Variable word architectures

Early machine designs included some that used what is often termed a variable word length. In this type of organization, a numeric operand had no fixed length but rather its end was detected when a character with a special marking, often called word mark, was encountered. Such machines often used binary coded decimal for numbers. This class of machines included the IBM 702, IBM 705, IBM 7080, IBM 7010, UNIVAC 1050, IBM 1401, and IBM 1620.

Most of these machines work on one unit of memory at a time and since each instruction or datum is several units long, each instruction takes several cycles just to access memory. These machines are often quite slow because of this. For example, instruction fetches on an IBM 1620 Model I take 8 cycles just to read the 12 digits of the instruction (the Model II reduced this to 6 cycles, or 4 cycles if the instruction did not need both address fields). Instruction execution took a completely variable number of cycles, depending on the size of the operands.

Word and byte addressing

The memory model of an architecture is strongly influenced by the word size. In particular, the resolution of a memory address, that is, the smallest unit that can be designated by an address, has often been chosen to be the word. In this approach, address values which differ by one designate adjacent memory words. This is natural in machines which deal almost always in word (or multiple-word) units, and has the advantage of allowing instructions to use minimally sized fields to contain addresses, which can permit a smaller instruction size or a larger variety of instructions.

When byte processing is to be a significant part of the workload, it is usually more advantageous to use the byte, rather than the word, as the unit of address resolution. This allows an arbitrary character within a character string to be addressed straightforwardly. A word can still be addressed, but the address to be used requires a few more bits than the word-resolution alternative. The word size needs to be an integer multiple of the character size in this organization. This addressing approach was used in the IBM 360, and has been the most common approach in machines designed since then.

Individual bytes can be accessed on a word-oriented machine in one of two ways. Bytes can be manipulated by a combination of shift and mask operations in registers. Moving a single byte from one arbitrary location to another may require the equivalent of the following:

  1. LOAD the word containing the source byte
  2. SHIFT the source word to align the desired byte to the correct position in the target word
  3. AND the source word with a mask to zero out all but the desired bits
  4. LOAD the word containing the target byte
  5. AND the target word with a mask to zero out the target byte
  6. OR the registers containing the source and target words to insert the source byte
  7. STORE the result back in the target location

Alternatively many word-oriented machines implement byte operations with instructions using special byte pointers in registers or memory. For an example the PDP-10 byte pointer contained the size of the byte in bits (allowing different-sized bytes to be accessed), the bit position of the byte within the word, and the word address of the data. Instructions could automatically adjust the pointer to the next byte on, for example, load and deposit (store) operations.

Powers of two

Different amounts of memory are used to store data values with different degrees of precision. The commonly used sizes are usually a power of two multiple of the unit of address resolution (byte or word). Converting the index of an item in an array into the address of the item then requires only a shift operation rather than a multiplication. In some cases this relationship can also avoid the use of division operations. As a result, most modern computer designs have word sizes (and other operand sizes) that are a power of two times the size of a byte.

Size families

As computer designs have grown more complex, the central importance of a single word size to an architecture has decreased. Although more capable hardware can use a wider variety of sizes of data, market forces exert pressure to maintain backward compatibility while extending processor capability. As a result, what might have been the central word size in a fresh design has to coexist as an alternative size to the original word size in a backward compatible design. The original word size remains available in future designs, forming the basis of a size family.

In the mid-1970s, DEC designed the VAX to be a 32-bit successor of the 16-bit PDP-11. They used word for a 16-bit quantity, while longword referred to a 32-bit quantity. This was in contrast to earlier machines, where the natural unit of addressing memory would be called a word, while a quantity that is one half a word would be called a halfword. In fitting with this scheme, a VAX quadword is 64 bits. They continued this word/longword/quadword terminology with the 64-bit Alpha.

Another example is the x86 family, of which processors of three different word lengths (16-bit, later 32- and 64-bit) have been released, while word continues to designate a 16-bit quantity. As software is routinely ported from one word-length to the next, some APIs and documentation define or refer to an older (and thus shorter) word-length than the full word length on the CPU that software may be compiled for. Also, similar to how bytes are used for small numbers in many programs, a shorter word (16 or 32 bits) may be used in contexts where the range of a wider word is not needed (especially where this can save considerable stack space or cache memory space). For example, Microsoft's Windows API maintains the programming language definition of WORD as 16 bits, despite the fact that the API may be used on a 32- or 64-bit x86 processor, where the standard word size would be 32 or 64 bits, respectively. Data structures containing such different sized words refer to them as WORD (16 bits/2 bytes), DWORD (32 bits/4 bytes) and QWORD (64 bits/8 bytes) respectively. A similar phenomenon has developed in Intel's x86 assembly language – because of the support for various sizes (and backward compatibility) in the instruction set, some instruction mnemonics carry "d" or "q" identifiers denoting "double-", "quad-" or "double-quad-", which are in terms of the architecture's original 16-bit word size.

In general, new processors must use the same data word lengths and virtual address widths as an older processor to have binary compatibility with that older processor.

Often carefully written source code – written with source code compatibility and software portability in mind – can be recompiled to run on a variety of processors, even ones with different data word lengths or different address widths or both.

Table of word sizes

key: bit: bits, d: decimal digits[clarification needed], w: word size of architecture, n: variable size
Year Computer
Word size w Integer
Unit of address
Char size
1837 Babbage
Analytical engine
50 d w Five different cards were used for different functions, exact size of cards not known. w
1941 Zuse Z3 22 bit w 8 bit w
1942 ABC 50 bit w
1944 Harvard Mark I 23 d w 24 bit
(w/Panel #16[4])
{w/Panel #26[5]}
10 d w, 2w

(2 d, 4 d, 6 d, 8 d)
{2 d, 4 d, 6 d, 8 d}

1951 UNIVAC I 12 d w ½w w 1 d
1952 IAS machine 40 bit w ½w w 5 bit
1952 Fast Universal Digital Computer M-2 34 bit w? w 34 bit = 4 bit opcode plus 3×10 bit address 10 bit
1952 IBM 701 36 bit ½w, w ½w ½w, w 6 bit
1952 UNIVAC 60 n d 1 d, ... 10 d 2 d, 3 d
1952 ARRA I 30 bit w w w 5 bit
1953 IBM 702 n d 0 d, ... 511 d 5 d d 1 d
1953 UNIVAC 120 n d 1 d, ... 10 d 2 d, 3 d
1953 ARRA II 30 bit w 2w ½w w 5 bit
IBM 650
(w/IBM 653)
10 d w
w w 2 d
1954 IBM 704 36 bit w w w w 6 bit
1954 IBM 705 n d 0 d, ... 255 d 5 d d 1 d
1954 IBM NORC 16 d w w, 2w w w
1956 IBM 305 n d 1 d, ... 100 d 10 d d 1 d
1956 ARMAC 34 bit w w ½w w 5 bit, 6 bit
1957 Autonetics Recomp I 40 bit w, 79 bit, 8 d, 15 d ½w ½w, w 5 bit
1958 UNIVAC II 12 d w ½w w 1 d
1958 SAGE 32 bit ½w w w 6 bit
1958 Autonetics Recomp II 40 bit w, 79 bit, 8 d, 15 d 2w ½w ½w, w 5 bit
1958 Setun trit (~9.5 bit)[clarification needed] up to 6 tryte up to 3 trytes 4 trit?
1958 Electrologica X1 27 bit w 2w w w 5 bit, 6 bit
1959 IBM 1401 n d 1 d, ... 1 d, 2 d, 4 d, 5 d, 7 d, 8 d d 1 d
IBM 1620 n d 2 d, ...
(4 d, ... 102 d)
12 d d 2 d
1960 LARC 12 d w, 2w w, 2w w w 2 d
1960 CDC 1604 48 bit w w ½w w 6 bit
1960 IBM 1410 n d 1 d, ... 1 d, 2 d, 6 d, 7 d, 11 d, 12 d d 1 d
1960 IBM 7070 10 d w w w w, d 2 d
1960 PDP-1 18 bit w w w 6 bit
1960 Elliott 803 39 bit + 1 parity
1961 IBM 7030
64 bit 1 bit, ... 64 bit,
1 d, ... 16 d
w ½w, w b, ½w, w 1 bit, ... 8 bit
1961 IBM 7080 n d 0 d, ... 255 d 5 d d 1 d
1962 GE-6xx 36 bit w, 2 w w, 2 w, 80 bit w w 6 bit, 9 bit
1962 UNIVAC III 25 bit w, 2w, 3w, 4w, 6 d, 12 d w w 6 bit
1962 Autonetics D-17B
Minuteman I Guidance Computer
27 bit 11 bit, 24 bit 24 bit w
1962 UNIVAC 1107 36 bit w, ⅓w, ½w, w w w w 6 bit
1962 IBM 7010 n d 1 d, ... 1 d, 2 d, 6 d, 7 d, 11 d, 12 d d 1 d
1962 IBM 7094 36 bit w w, 2w w w 6 bit
1963 Titan 48 bit w w w w w
1962 SDS 9 Series 24 bit w 2w w w
1963/1966 PDP-6/PDP-10 36 bit w w, 2 w w w 6 bit, 9 bit (typical)
1963 Gemini Guidance Computer 39 bit 26 bit 13 bit 13 bit, 26 —bit
Apollo Guidance Computer 15 bit w w, 2w w
1963 Saturn Launch Vehicle Digital Computer 26 bit w 13 bit w
1964 CDC 6600 60 bit w w ¼w, ½w w 6 bit
1964 Autonetics D-37C
Minuteman II Guidance Computer
27 bit 11 bit, 24 bit 24 bit w 4 bit, 5 bit
1965 IBM 360 32 bit ½w, w,
1 d, ... 16 d
w, 2w ½w, w, 1½w 8 bit 8 bit
1965 UNIVAC 1108 36 bit w, ¼w, ⅓w, ½w, w, 2w w, 2w w w 6 bit, 9 bit
1965 PDP-8 12 bit w w w 8 bit
1965 Electrologica X8 27 bit w 2w w w 6 bit, 7 bit
1966 SDS Sigma 7 32 bit ½w, w w, 2w w 8 bit 8 bit
1969 Four Phase Systems AL1 8 bit w ? ? ?
1970 MP944 20 bit w ? ? ?
1970 PDP-11 16 bit w 2w, 4w w, 2w, 3w 8 bit 8 bit
1971 TMS-1000 4 bit w ? ?
1971 Intel 4004 4 bit w, d 2w, 4w w
1972 Intel 8008 8 bit w, 2 d w, 2w, 3w w 8 bit
1972 Calcomp 900 9 bit w w, 2w w 8 bit
1974 Intel 8080 8 bit w, 2w, 2 d w, 2w, 3w w 8 bit
1975 ILLIAC IV 64 bit w w, ½w w w
1975 Motorola 6800 8 bit w, 2 d w, 2w, 3w w 8 bit
1975 MOS Tech. 6501
MOS Tech. 6502
8 bit w, 2 d w, 2w, 3w w 8 bit
1976 Cray-1 64 bit 24 bit, w w ¼w, ½w w 8 bit
1976 Zilog Z80 8 bit w, 2w, 2 d w, 2w, 3w, 4w, 5w w 8 bit
16-bit x86 (Intel 8086)
(w/floating point: Intel 8087)
16 bit ½w, w, 2 d
(2w, 4w, 5w, 17 d)
½w, w, ... 7w 8 bit 8 bit
1978 VAX 32 bit ¼w, ½w, w, 1 d, ... 31 d, 1 bit, ... 32 bit w, 2w ¼w, ... 14¼w 8 bit 8 bit
Motorola 68000 series
(w/floating point)
32 bit ¼w, ½w, w, 2 d
(w, 2w, 2½w)
½w, w, ... 7½w 8 bit 8 bit
1985 IA-32 (Intel 80386) (w/floating point) 32 bit 8 bit, ½w, w
w, w, 80 bit)
8 bit, ... 15 bit 8 bit 8 bit
1985 ARMv1 32 bit ¼w, w w 8 bit 8 bit
1985 MIPS 32 bit ¼w, ½w, w w, 2w w 8 bit 8 bit
1991 Cray C90 64 bit 32 bit, w w ¼w, ½w, 48 bit w 8 bit
1992 Alpha 64 bit 8 bit, ¼w, ½w, w w, 2w ½w 8 bit 8 bit
1992 PowerPC 32 bit ¼w, ½w, w w, 2w w 8 bit 8 bit
1996 ARMv4
32 bit ¼w, ½w, w w
w, w)
8 bit 8 bit
2001 IA-64 64 bit 8 bit, ¼w, ½w, w ½w, w 41 bit 8 bit 8 bit
2001 ARMv6
32 bit 8 bit, ½w, w
(w, 2w)
½w, w 8 bit 8 bit
2003 x86-64 64 bit 8 bit, ¼w, ½w, w ½w, w, 80 bit 8 bit, ... 15 bit 8 bit 8 bit
2013 ARMv8-A 64 bit 8 bit, ¼w, ½w, w ½w, w ½w 8 bit 8 bit
Year Computer
Word size w Integer
Unit of address
Char size
key: bit: bits, d: decimal digits, w: word size of architecture, n: variable size


See also


  1. ^ Schneider, Carl (2013) [1970]. Datenverarbeitungs-Lexikon [Lexicon of information technology] (in German) (softcover reprint of hardcover 1st ed.). Wiesbaden, Germany: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH / Betriebswirtschaftlicher Verlag Dr. Th. Gabler GmbH. pp. 201, 308. doi:10.1007/978-3-663-13618-7. ISBN 978-3-409-31831-0. Retrieved 2016-05-24. slab, Abk. aus syllable = Silbe, die kleinste adressierbare Informationseinheit für 12 bit zur Übertragung von zwei Alphazeichen oder drei numerischen Zeichen. (NCR) […] Hardware: Datenstruktur: NCR 315-100 / NCR 315-RMC; Wortlänge: Silbe; Bits: 12; Bytes: –; Dezimalziffern: 3; Zeichen: 2; Gleitkommadarstellung: fest verdrahtet; Mantisse: 4 Silben; Exponent: 1 Silbe (11 Stellen + 1 Vorzeichen) [slab, abbr. for syllable = syllable, smallest addressable information unit for 12 bits for the transfer of two alphabetical characters or three numerical characters. (NCR) […] Hardware: Data structure: NCR 315-100 / NCR 315-RMC; Word length: Syllable; Bits: 12; Bytes: –; Decimal digits: 3; Characters: 2; Floating point format: hard-wired; Significand: 4 syllables; Exponent: 1 syllable (11 digits + 1 prefix)] 
  2. ^ Dreyfus, Phillippe (1958-05-08) [1958-05-06], written at Los Angeles, California, USA, "System design of the Gamma 60" (PDF), Proceedings of the May 6–8, 1958, Western Joint Computer Conference: Contrasts in Computers, ACM, New York, NY, USA, pp. 130–133, IRE-ACM-AIEE '58 (Western), archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-04-03, retrieved 2017-04-03, […] Internal data code is used: Quantitative (numerical) data are coded in a 4-bit decimal code; qualitative (alpha-numerical) data are coded in a 6-bit alphanumerical code. The internal instruction code means that the instructions are coded in straight binary code.
    As to the internal information length, the information quantum is called a "catena," and it is composed of 24 bits representing either 6 decimal digits, or 4 alphanumerical characters. This quantum must contain a multiple of 4 and 6 bits to represent a whole number of decimal or alphanumeric characters. Twenty-four bits was found to be a good compromise between the minimum 12 bits, which would lead to a too-low transfer flow from a parallel readout core memory, and 36 bits or more, which was judged as too large an information quantum. The catena is to be considered as the equivalent of a character in variable word length machines, but it cannot be called so, as it may contain several characters. It is transferred in series to and from the main memory.
    Not wanting to call a "quantum" a word, or a set of characters a letter, (a word is a word, and a quantum is something else), a new word was made, and it was called a "catena." It is an English word and exists in Webster's although it does not in French. Webster's definition of the word catena is, "a connected series;" therefore, a 24-bit information item. The word catena will be used hereafter.
    The internal code, therefore, has been defined. Now what are the external data codes? These depend primarily upon the information handling device involved. The Gamma 60 is designed to handle information relevant to any binary coded structure. Thus an 80-column punched card is considered as a 960-bit information item; 12 rows multiplied by 80 columns equals 960 possible punches; is stored as an exact image in 960 magnetic cores of the main memory with 2 card columns occupying one catena. […]
  3. ^ Blaauw, Gerrit Anne; Brooks, Jr., Frederick Phillips; Buchholz, Werner (1962), "4: Natural Data Units", in Buchholz, Werner, Planning a Computer System – Project Stretch (PDF), McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc. / The Maple Press Company, York, PA., pp. 39–40, LCCN 61-10466, archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-04-03, retrieved 2017-04-03, […] Terms used here to describe the structure imposed by the machine design, in addition to bit, are listed below.
    Byte denotes a group of bits used to encode a character, or the number of bits transmitted in parallel to and from input-output units. A term other than character is used here because a given character may be represented in different applications by more than one code, and different codes may use different numbers of bits (i.e., different byte sizes). In input-output transmission the grouping of bits may be completely arbitrary and have no relation to actual characters. (The term is coined from bite, but respelled to avoid accidental mutation to bit.)
    A word consists of the number of data bits transmitted in parallel from or to memory in one memory cycle. Word size is thus defined as a structural property of the memory. (The term catena was coined for this purpose by the designers of the Bull GAMMA 60 (fr) computer.)
    Block refers to the number of words transmitted to or from an input-output unit in response to a single input-output instruction. Block size is a structural property of an input-output unit; it may have been fixed by the design or left to be varied by the program. […]
  4. ^ Clippinger, Richard F. (1948-09-29). "A Logical Coding System Applied to the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer)". Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, US: Ballistic Research Laboratories. Report No. 673; Project No. TB3-0007 of the Research and Development Division, Ordnance Department. Retrieved 2017-04-05. 
  5. ^ Clippinger, Richard F. (1948-09-29). "A Logical Coding System Applied to the ENIAC". Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, US: Ballistic Research Laboratories. Section VIII: Modified ENIAC. Retrieved 2017-04-05. 
  6. ^ Blaauw, Gerrit Anne; Brooks, Jr., Frederick Phillips (1997). Computer Architecture: Concepts and Evolution. Addison-Wesley. ISBN 0-201-10557-8. 
  7. ^ Ralston, Anthony; Reilly, Edwin D. (1993). Encyclopedia of Computer Science (3rd ed.). Van Nostrand Reinhold. ISBN 0-442-27679-6. 


See also: Word, worð, and ƿord


Wikipedia has articles on:


Etymology 1

From Middle English word, from Old English word, from Proto-Germanic *wurdą, from Proto-Indo-European *wr̥dʰh₁om. Doublet of verb.


word (plural words)


The word inventory may be pronounced with four syllables (/ˈɪn.vən.tɔ.ɹɪ/) or only three (/ɪnˈvɛn.tɹɪ/).

The word island is six letters long; the s has never been pronounced but was added under the influence of isle.

">File:About- General sign.ogvPlay media The word about signed in American Sign Language.
  1. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'Модул:parameters' not foundThe smallest unit of language that has a particular meaning and can be expressed by itself; the smallest discrete, meaningful unit of language. (contrast morpheme.)
    • 1897, Ouida, “The New Woman”, in An Altruist and Four Essays, page 239:
      But every word, whether written or spoken, which urges the woman to antagonism against the man, every word which is written or spoken to try and make of her a hybrid, self-contained opponent of men, makes a rift in the lute to which the world looks for its sweetest music.
    • 1986, David Barrat, Media Sociology, →ISBN, page 112:
      The word, whether written or spoken, does not look like or sound like its meaning — it does not resemble its signified. We only connect the two because we have learnt the code — language. Without such knowledge, 'Maggie' would just be a meaningless pattern of shapes or sounds.
    • 2009, Jack Fitzgerald, Viva La Evolucin, →ISBN, page 233:
      Brian and Abby signed the word clothing, in which the thumbs brush down the chest as though something is hanging there. They both spoke the word clothing. Brian then signed the word for change, []
    • 2013 June 14, Sam Leith, “Where the profound meets the profane”, in The Guardian Weekly, volume 189, number 1, page 37:
      Swearing doesn't just mean what we now understand by "dirty words". It is entwined, in social and linguistic history, with the other sort of swearing: vows and oaths. Consider for a moment the origins of almost any word we have for bad language – "profanity", "curses", "oaths" and "swearing" itself.
    1. The smallest discrete unit of spoken language with a particular meaning, composed of one or more phonemes and one or more morphemes
      • 1894, Alex. R. Mackwen, “The Samaritan Passover”, in Littell's Living Age, volume 1, number 6:
        Then all was silent save the voice of the high priest, whose words grew louder and louder, []
      • 1898, Winston Churchill, chapter 4, in The Celebrity:
        Mr. Cooke at once began a tirade against the residents of Asquith for permitting a sandy and generally disgraceful condition of the roads. So roundly did he vituperate the inn management in particular, and with such a loud flow of words, that I trembled lest he should be heard on the veranda.
    2. The smallest discrete unit of written language with a particular meaning, composed of one or more letters or symbols and one or more morphemes
      • c. 1599–1602, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies: Published According to the True Originall Copies (First Folio), London: Printed by Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, (please specify the act number in uppercase Roman numerals):
        , act 2, scene 2:
        Polonius: What do you read, my lord?
        Hamlet: Words, words, words.
      • 2003, Jan Furman, Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon: A Casebook, →ISBN, page 194:
        The name was a confused gift of love from her father, who could not read the word but picked it out of the Bible for its visual shape, []
      • 2009, Stanislas Dehaene, Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read, →ISBN:
        Well-meaning academics even introduced spelling absurdities such as the “s” in the word “island,” a misguided Renaissance attempt to restore the etymology of the [unrelated] Latin word insula.
    3. A discrete, meaningful unit of language approved by an authority or native speaker (compare non-word).
      • 1896, Israel Zangwill, Without Prejudice, page 21:
        “Ain’t! How often am I to tell you ain’t ain’t a word?”
      • 1999, Linda Greenlaw, The Hungry Ocean, Hyperion, page 11:
        Fisherwoman isn’t even a word. It’s not in the dictionary.
  2. Something like such a unit of language:
    1. A sequence of letters, characters, or sounds, considered as a discrete entity, though it does not necessarily belong to a language or have a meaning
      • 1974, Thinking Goes to School: Piaget's Theory in Practice, →ISBN, page 183:
        In still another variation, the nonsense word is presented and the teacher asks, "What sound was in the beginning of the word?" "In the middle?" and so on. The child should always respond with the phoneme; he should not use letter labels.
      • 2003, How To Do Everything with Your Tablet PC, →ISBN, page 278:
        I wrote a nonsense word, "umbalooie," in the Input Panel's Writing Pad. Input Panel converted it to "cembalos" and displayed it in the Text Preview pane.
      • 2006, Scribal Habits and Theological Influences in the Apocalypse, →ISBN, page 141:
        Here the scribe has dropped the με from καθημενος, thereby creating the nonsense word καθηνος.
      • 2013, The Cognitive Neuropsychology of Language, →ISBN, page 91:
        If M. V. has sustained impairment to a phonological output process common to reading and repetition, we might anticipate that her mispronunciations will partially reflect the underlying phonemic form of the nonsense word.
    2. (telegraphy) A unit of text equivalent to five characters and one space. [from 19th c.]
    3. (computing) A fixed-size group of bits handled as a unit by a machine (on many 16-bit machines, 16 bits or two bytes). [from 20th c.]
    4. (computer science) A finite string that is not a command or operator. [from 20th or 21st c.]
    5. (group theory) A group element, expressed as a product of group elements.
  3. The fact or act of speaking, as opposed to taking action. [from 9th c.]
    • 1811, Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility:
      [] she believed them still so very much attached to each other, that they could not be too sedulously divided in word and deed on every occasion.
    • 2004 September 8, Richard Williams, The Guardian:
      As they fell apart against Austria, England badly needed someone capable of leading by word and example.
  4. (now rare outside certain phrases) Something that someone said; a comment, utterance; speech. [from 10th c.]
    • 1611, Bible, Authorized Version, Matthew XXVI.75:
      And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.
    • (Can we date this quote?), Alfred Tennyson, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      She said; but at the happy word "he lives", / My father stooped, re-fathered, o'er my wound.
    • (Can we date this quote?), Charles Dickens, (Please provide the book title or journal name):
      There is only one other point on which I offer a word of remark.
    • 1945 April 1, Sebastian Haffner, The Observer:
      "The Kaiser laid down his arms at a quarter to twelve. In me, however, they have an opponent who ceases fighting only at five minutes past twelve," said Hitler some time ago. He has never spoken a truer word.
    • 2011, David Bellos, Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, Penguin_year_published=2012, page 126:
      Despite appearances to the contrary [...] dragomans stuck rigidly to their brief, which was not to translate the Sultan's words, but his word.
    • 2011, John Lehew (senior), The Encouragement of Peter, →ISBN, page 108:
      In what sense is God's Word living? No other word, whether written or spoken, has the power that the Bible has to change lives.
  5. (obsolete outside certain phrases) A watchword or rallying cry, a verbal signal (even when consisting of multiple words).
    • 1592, William Shakespeare, Richard III:
      Our ancient word of courage, fair Saint George, inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons!
    • (Can we date this quote?), John Fletcher and William Rowley, The Maid in the Mill, published 1647, scene 3:
      I have the word : sentinel, do thou stand; []
  6. (obsolete) A proverb or motto.
    • 1499, John Skelton, The Bowge of Court:
      Among all other was wrytten in her trone / In golde letters, this worde, whiche I dyde rede: / Garder le fortune que est mauelz et bone.
    • 1599, Ben Jonson, Every Man out of His Humour:
      Let the word be 'Not without mustard'. Your crest is very rare, sir.
    • 1646, Joseph Hall, The Balm of Gilead:
      The old word is, 'What the eye views not, the heart rues not.'
  7. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'Модул:parameters' not found News; tidings (used without an article). [from 10th c.]
    Have you had any word from John yet?
  8. An order; a request or instruction; an expression of will. [from 10th c.]
    He sent word that we should strike camp before winter.
    Don't fire till I give the word
    Their mother's word was law.
  9. A promise; an oath or guarantee. [from 10th c.]
    I give you my word that I will be there on time.
    Synonym: promise
  10. A brief discussion or conversation. [from 15th c.]
    Can I have a word with you?
  11. (in the plural) See words.
    There had been words between him and the secretary about the outcome of the meeting.
  12. (theology, sometimes Word) Communication from God; the message of the Christian gospel; the Bible, Scripture. [from 10th c.]
    Her parents had lived in Botswana, spreading the word among the tribespeople.
    Synonyms: word of God, Bible
  13. (theology, sometimes Word) Logos, Christ. [from 8th c.]
    • 1526, William Tyndale, trans. Bible, John I:
      And that worde was made flesshe, and dwelt amonge vs, and we sawe the glory off yt, as the glory off the only begotten sonne off the father, which worde was full of grace, and verite.
    Synonyms: God, Logos
Usage notes

In English and other languages with a tradition of space-delimited writing, it is customary to treat "word" as referring to any sequence of characters delimited by spaces. However, this is not applicable to languages such as Chinese and Japanese, which are normally written without spaces, or to languages such as Vietnamese, which are written with a space between each syllable.

In computing, the size (length) of a word, while being fixed in a particular machine or processor family design, can be different in different designs, for many reasons. See Word (computing) for a full explanation.

Derived terms


word (third-person singular simple present words, present participle wording, simple past and past participle worded)

  1. (transitive) To say or write (something) using particular words; to phrase (something).
    I’m not sure how to word this letter to the council.
    Synonyms: express, phrase, put into words, state
  2. (transitive, obsolete) To flatter with words, to cajole.
    • 1607, William Shakespeare, Anthony and Cleopatra, act 5, scene 2:
      He words me, girls, he words me, that I should not / be noble to myself.
  3. (transitive) To ply or overpower with words.
    • 1621 November 30, James Howell, letter to Francis Bacon, from Turin:
      [] if one were to be worded to death, Italian is the fittest Language [for that task]
    • 1829 April 1, “Webster's Dictionary”, in The North American Review, volume 28, page 438:
      [] if a man were to be worded to death, or stoned to death by words, the High-Dutch were the fittest [language for that task].
  4. (transitive, rare) To conjure with a word.
    • c. 1645–1715, Robert South, Sermon on Psalm XXXIX. 9:
      Against him [] who could word heaven and earth out of nothing, and can when he pleases word them into nothing again.
    • 1994, “Liminal Postmodernisms”, in Postmodern Studies, volume 8, page 162:
      "Postcolonialism" might well be another linguistic construct, desperately begging for a referent that will never show up, simply because it never existed on its own and was literally worded into existence by the very term that pretends to be born from it.
    • 2013, Carla Mae Streeter, Foundations of Spirituality: The Human and the Holy, →ISBN, page 92:
      The being of each person is worded into existence in the Word, []
  5. (intransitive, archaic) To speak, to use words; to converse, to discourse.
    • 1818, John Keats, Hyperion:
      Thus wording timidly among the fierce: / 'O Father, I am here the simplest voice, [] '
Derived terms



  1. (slang, African American Vernacular) Truth, indeed, that is the truth! The shortened form of the statement "My word is my bond."
    "Yo, that movie was epic!" / "Word?" ("You speak the truth?") / "Word." ("I speak the truth.")
  2. (slang, emphatic, stereotypically, African American Vernacular) An abbreviated form of word up; a statement of the acknowledgment of fact with a hint of nonchalant approval.
    • 2004, Shannon Holmes, Never Go Home Again: A Novel, page 218:
      " [] Know what I'm sayin'?" / "Word!" the other man strongly agreed. "Let's do this — "
    • 2007, Gabe Rotter, Duck Duck Wally: A Novel, page 105:
      " [] Not bad at all, man. Worth da wait, dawg. Word." / "You liked it?" I asked dumbly, stoned still, and feeling victorious. / "Yeah, man," said Oral B. "Word up. [] "
    • 2007, Relentless Aaron, The Last Kingpin, page 34:
      " [] I mean, I don't blame you... Word! [] "


See also

Etymology 2

Variant of worth (to become, turn into, grow, get), from Middle English worthen, from Old English weorþan (to turn into, become, grow), from Proto-Germanic *werþaną (to turn, turn into, become). More at worth (verb).



  1. Alternative form of worth (to become).




From Dutch worden, from Middle Dutch werden, from Old Dutch werthan, from Proto-Germanic *werþaną.


word (present word, present participle wordende, past participle geword)

  1. to become; to get (to change one’s state)
    Ek het ryk geword.
    I became rich.
    Ek word ryk.
    I am becoming rich.
    Sy word beter.
    She is getting better.
  2. Forms the present passive voice when followed by a past participle
    Die kat word gevoer.
    The cat is being fed.

Usage notes

  • The verb has an archaic preterite werd: Die kat werd gevoer. (“The cat was fed.”) In contemporary Afrikaans the perfect is used instead: Die kat is gevoer.





  1. first-person singular present indicative of worden
  2. imperative of worden

Old English

Alternative forms


From Proto-Germanic *wurdą.



word n (nominative plural word)

  1. word
  2. speech, utterance, statement
  3. (grammar) verb
  4. news, information, rumour
  5. command, request


Derived terms


Old Saxon


From Proto-Germanic *wurdą.



word n

  1. word


Definitions by https://www.wiktionary.org/
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