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[mag-ni-tood, -tyood] /ˈmæg nɪˌtud, -ˌtyud/
size; extent; dimensions:
to determine the magnitude of an angle.
great importance or consequence:
affairs of magnitude.
greatness of size or amount.
moral greatness:
magnitude of mind.
  1. Also called visual magnitude, apparent magnitude. the brightness of a star or other celestial body as viewed by the unaided eye and expressed by a mathematical ratio of 2.512: a star of the first magnitude is approximately 2½ times as bright as one of the second magnitude and 100 times brighter than one of the sixth magnitude. Only stars of the sixth magnitude or brighter can be seen with the unaided eye.
  2. absolute magnitude.
Mathematics. a number characteristic of a quantity and forming a basis for comparison with similar quantities, as length.
of the first magnitude, of utmost or major importance:
an artist of the first magnitude.
Origin of magnitude
First recorded in 1350-1400; Middle English word from Latin word magnitūdō. See magni-, -tude
Related forms
[mag-ni-tood-n-uh s, -tyood-] /ˌmæg nɪˈtud n əs, -ˈtyud-/ (Show IPA),
overmagnitude, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for magnitude
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Dick went on speaking with a seriousness suited to the magnitude of his interests.

    Within the Law Marvin Dana
  • I have no illusions about the magnitude of the job, of its practical hopelessness.

    Slaves of Mercury Nat Schachner
  • Let then your future life show that you are not insensible of the magnitude of the obligation.

    Gomez Arias Joaqun Telesforo de Trueba y Coso
  • "An experiment of this magnitude shouldn't be treated so lightly," he added acidly.

    The Second Voice Mann Rubin
  • One can show his sense of the magnitude of his crime even by the manner of defending it.

    Homeward Bound James Fenimore Cooper
British Dictionary definitions for magnitude


relative importance or significance: a problem of the first magnitude
relative size or extent: the magnitude of the explosion
(maths) a number assigned to a quantity, such as weight, and used as a basis of comparison for the measurement of similar quantities
(astronomy) Also called apparent magnitude. the apparent brightness of a celestial body expressed on a numerical scale on which bright stars have a low value. Values are measured by eye (visual magnitude) or more accurately by photometric or photographic methods, and range from –26.7 (the sun), through 1.5 (Sirius), down to about +30. Each integral value represents a brightness 2.512 times greater than the next highest integral value See also absolute magnitude, visual magnitude
(geology) Also called earthquake magnitude. a measure of the size of an earthquake based on the quantity of energy released: specified on the Richter scale See Richter scale
Derived Forms
magnitudinous, adjective
Word Origin
C14: from Latin magnitūdō size, from magnus great
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for magnitude

c.1400, "greatness of size or character," from Latin magnitudo "greatness, bulk, size," from magnus "great" (see magnate) + -tudo, suffix forming abstract nouns from adjectives and participles (see -tude). Meaning "size, extent" is from early 15c. Of stars, "brightness," from 1640s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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magnitude in Science
  1. The degree of brightness of a star or other celestial body, measured on a logarithmic scale in which lower numbers mean greater brightness, such that a decrease of one unit represents an increase in brightness by a factor of 2.512. An object that is 5 units less than another object on the magnitude scale is 100 times more luminous. Because of refinements in measurement after the zero point was assigned, very bright objects have negative magnitudes. ◇ The brightness of a celestial body as seen from Earth is called its apparent magnitude. (When unspecified, an object's magnitude is normally assumed to be its apparent magnitude.) The dimmest stars visible to the unaided eye have apparent magnitude 6, while the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, has apparent magnitude -1.4. The full Moon and the Sun have apparent magnitudes of -12.7 and -26.8 respectively. ◇ The brightness of a celestial body computed as if viewed from a distance of 10 parsecs (32.6 light-years) is called its absolute magnitude. Absolute magnitude measures the intrinsic brightness of a celestial object rather than how bright it appears on Earth, using the same logarithmic scale as for apparent magnitude. Sirius has an absolute magnitude of 1.5, considerably dimmer than Rigel which, though its apparent magnitude is 0.12, has an absolute magnitude of -8.1. Stars that appear dim in the night sky but have bright absolute magnitudes are much farther from Earth than stars that shine brightly at night but have relatively dim absolute magnitudes. The Sun, a star of only medium brightness, has an absolute magnitude of 4.8. ◇ The degree of total radiation emitted by a celestial body, including all infrared and ultraviolet radiation in addition to visible light, is called its bolometric magnitude. Bolometric magnitude is generally measured by applying a standard correction to an object's absolute magnitude.

  2. A measure of the total amount of energy released by an earthquake, as indicated on the Richter scale. See more at Richter scale.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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