median

[ mee-dee-uhn ]
/ ˈmi di ən /
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noun
Arithmetic, Statistics. the middle number in a given sequence of numbers, taken as the average of the two middle numbers when the sequence has an even number of numbers: 4 is the median of 1, 3, 4, 8, 9.
Geometry. a straight line from a vertex of a triangle to the midpoint of the opposite side.
Also called midpoint . a vertical line that divides a histogram into two equal parts.Compare central tendency.
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Origin ofmedian

First recorded in 1535–45, median is from the Latin word mediānus in the middle. See medium, -an

Other definitions for median (2 of 2)

Median
[ mee-dee-uhn ]
/ ˈmi di ən /

of or relating to Media, the Medes, or their language.
noun
a Mede.
the Iranian language of ancient Media, contemporaneous with Old Persian.

Origin ofMedian

First recorded in 1595–1605; Medi(a) + -an
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022

What’s the difference between median, mean, mode, and average?

In the context of mathematics and statistics, the median is the middle number in a set of values when those values are arranged from smallest to largest. In contrast, the word mean refers to what’s informally called the average—the sum of a set of values divided by the number of values. The mode of a set of values is the most frequently repeated value in the set.

The word average is of course also very commonly used in more general ways. In math, though, it’s helpful to use more specific terms when determining the most representative or common value in a set of numbers.

To illustrate the difference, let’s look at an example set of seven values: 2, 3, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9.

To get the mean of this set, you’d add up all the values (2+3+3+4+6+8+9=35) and then divide that total by the number of values (7), resulting in a mean of 5. This is what most people are referring to when they refer to the average of some set of numbers.

To find the median, you have to find the one that’s sequentially in the middle. In a set of seven numbers arranged in increasing value, the median is the fourth number (since there are three before and three after). In this set (2, 3, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9), the median is 4. When a set has an even number of values, the median is the mean of the two middle values.

The mode is simply the value that shows up the most. In the example set, the mode is 3, since it occurs twice and all the other values occur only once.

Want to learn more? Read the full breakdown of the difference between median, mean, mode, and average.

Quiz yourself on median vs. mean vs. mode vs. average!

Should median, mean, mode, or average be used in the following sentence?

The most frequently repeated test score is 80, so it’s the _____ of the set.

median
/ (ˈmiːdɪən) /

noun

Word Origin for median

C16: from Latin mediānus, from medius middle
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

Medical definitions for median

median
[ mēdē-ən ]

Relating to, located in, or extending toward the middle.
Of, relating to, or situated in or near the plane that divides a bilaterally symmetrical animal into right and left halves; mesial.
Of, relating to, or constituting the middle value in a distribution.
n.
A median point, plane, line, or part.
The middle value in a distribution, above and below which lie an equal number of values.

Scientific definitions for median

median
[ mēdē-ən ]

In a sequence of numbers arranged from smallest to largest:
1. The middle number, when such a sequence has an odd number of values. For example, in the sequence 3, 4, 14, 35, 280, the median is 14.
2. The average of the two middle numbers, when such a sequence has an even number of values. For example, in the sequence 4, 8, 10, 56, the median is 9 (the average of 8 and 10). Compare arithmetic mean average mode.
A line joining a vertex of a triangle to the midpoint of the opposite side.

Cultural definitions for median (1 of 2)

median

The point in a series at which half of the values or units of the series are higher and half lower.

Cultural definitions for median (2 of 2)

median

In statistics, the middle value of a set of numbers or data points; half the figures will fall below the median and half above. (See average; compare mean and mode.)