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verb (used without object), os·cil·lat·ed, os·cil·lat·ing.
  1. to swing or move to and fro, as a pendulum does.
  2. to vary or vacillate between differing beliefs, opinions, conditions, etc.: He oscillates regularly between elation and despair.
  3. Physics. to have, produce, or generate oscillations.
  4. Mathematics. (of a function, sequence, etc.) to tend to no limit, including infinity: The sequence 0, 1, 0, 1, … oscillates.
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verb (used with object), os·cil·lat·ed, os·cil·lat·ing.
  1. to cause to move to and fro; vibrate.
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Origin of oscillate

1720–30; < Latin oscillātus (past participle of oscillāre “to swing, ride on a swing”), equivalent to oscill(um) “a swing” + -ātus -ate1
Related formsin·ter·os·cil·late, verb, in·ter·os·cil·lat·ed, in·ter·os·cil·lat·ing.un·os·cil·lat·ing, adjective
Can be confusedoscillate osculate

Synonyms for oscillate

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Synonym study

1. See swing1.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for oscillate

vacillate, wobble, lurch, seesaw, waver, teeter, fluctuate, toss, flicker, vary, pitch, ripple, pivot, whirl, wag, dangle, undulate, stagger, vibrate, waggle

Examples from the Web for oscillate

Contemporary Examples of oscillate

Historical Examples of oscillate

  • I expected to see it grip the wretched Bob, when it began to oscillate from side to side.

  • The weight will oscillate at a uniform rate, or so many times a minute.

    Historic Inventions

    Rupert S. Holland

  • Anyhow, I know I must oscillate between north and south, so oscillate I do.

    Aaron's Rod

    D. H. Lawrence

  • That is to say, the body must oscillate from side to side, or waddle.


    Martin Luther Holbrook

  • It does not oscillate (or pump), though extremely sensitive.

British Dictionary definitions for oscillate


  1. (intr) to move or swing from side to side regularly
  2. (intr) to waver between opinions, courses of action, etc
  3. physics to undergo or produce or cause to undergo or produce oscillation
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Word Origin for oscillate

C18: from Latin oscillāre to swing, from oscillum a swing
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

Word Origin and History for oscillate


1726, back-formation from oscillation, or else from Latin oscillatus, past participle of oscillare (see oscillation). From 1917 in electronics. Related: Oscillated; oscillating.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

oscillate in Medicine


  1. To swing back and forth with a steady, uninterrupted rhythm.
  2. To vary between alternate extremes, usually within a definable period of time.
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Related formsoscil•la′tor n.oscil•la•to′ry (-lə-tôr′ē) adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.