[ref-er-uhns, ref-ruhns]
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  1. an act or instance of referring.
  2. a mention; allusion.
  3. something for which a name or designation stands; denotation.
  4. a direction in a book or writing to some other book, passage, etc.
  5. a book, passage, etc., to which one is directed.
  6. reference mark(def 2).
  7. material contained in a footnote or bibliography, or referred to by a reference mark.
  8. use or recourse for purposes of information: a library for public reference.
  9. a person to whom one refers for testimony as to one's character, abilities, etc.
  10. a statement, usually written, as to a person's character, abilities, etc.
  11. relation, regard, or respect: all persons, without reference to age.
verb (used with object), ref·er·enced, ref·er·enc·ing.
  1. to furnish (a book, dissertation, etc.) with references: Each new volume is thoroughly referenced.
  2. to arrange (notes, data, etc.) for easy reference: Statistical data is referenced in the glossary.
  3. to refer to: to reference a file.

Origin of reference

First recorded in 1580–90; refer + -ence
Related formsmis·ref·er·ence, nounnon·ref·er·ence, nounpre·ref·er·ence, nounsub·ref·er·ence, nounun·ref·er·enced, adjective
Can be confusedallusion referencereference referral

Synonyms for reference

See more synonyms for on Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for reference

Contemporary Examples of reference

Historical Examples of reference

British Dictionary definitions for reference


  1. the act or an instance of referring
  2. something referred, esp proceedings submitted to a referee in law
  3. a direction of the attention to a passage elsewhere or to another book, document, etc
  4. a book or passage referred to
  5. a mention or allusionthis book contains several references to the Civil War
  6. philosophy
    1. the relation between a word, phrase, or symbol and the object or idea to which it refers
    2. the object referred to by an expressionCompare sense (def. 12)
    1. a source of information or facts
    2. (as modifier)a reference book; a reference library
  7. a written testimonial regarding one's character or capabilities
  8. a person referred to for such a testimonial
    1. (foll by to)relation or delimitation, esp to or by membership of a specific class or group; respect or regardall people, without reference to sex or age
    2. (as modifier)a reference group
  9. point of reference a fact forming the basis of an evaluation or assessment; criterion
  10. terms of reference the specific limits of responsibility that determine the activities of an investigating body, etc
verb (tr)
  1. to furnish or compile a list of references for (an academic thesis, publication, etc)
  2. to make a reference to; refer tohe referenced Chomsky, 1956
  1. commerce with reference toreference your letter of the 9th inst Abbreviation: re
Derived Formsreferencer, nounreferential (ˌrɛfəˈrɛnʃəl), adjective
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 reference

1580s, "act of referring," from refer + -ance, or else from French référence, from Medieval Latin *referentia, from Latin referentem (nominative referens), present participle of referre (see refer). Meaning "direction to a book or passage" is recorded from 1610s. Meaning "testimonial" is from 1895. Reference book dates from 1808. Phrase in reference to is attested from 1590s.


1620s, "to assign;" as "to provide with a reference," 1837 (implied in referenced), from reference (n.). Related: Referencing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with reference


see in regard (reference) to.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.