[ sawft-wair, soft- ]
/ ˈsɔftˌwɛər, ˈsɒft- /
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Computers. the programs used to direct the operation of a computer, as well as documentation giving instructions on how to use them.Compare hardware (def. 3).
anything that is not hardware but is used with hardware, especially audiovisual materials, as film, tapes, records, etc.: a studio fully equipped but lacking software.
Television Slang. prepackaged materials, as movies or reruns, used to fill out the major part of a station's program schedule.
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Origin of software

First recorded in 1955–60; soft + ware1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is software?

Software is a program or virtual experience that directs the operation of a computer or electronic device, as in The software on my phone was so outdated, I couldn’t send texts to anyone.

Software can refer to anything that is used with hardware but is not the hardware itself.

Example: The hardware is great, but there just isn’t enough software to back it up.

Where does software come from?

The first records of the term software come from the mid-1900s. It combines the term soft, in this instance meaning “not hard” and “easily moved or swayed,” and ware, meaning “an item or product.” Software is used in contrast with hardware, which is the physical machine that runs the software.

Software is usually a name for anything that runs on hardware, such as the operating system (Windows, Mac OS), a program such as a web browser, a piece that manages or completes tasks (volume mixer or a game), or any digital entertainment product.

Software can also be stored on hardware, such as DVDs, video game cartridges, music discs, and even tapes. Because of the nature of computer programming and hardware management, software will be coded in different computing languages that limit what hardware a certain piece of software can work on.

Did you know … ?

What are some synonyms for software?

What are some words that share a root or word element with software

What are some words that often get used in discussing software?

How is software used in real life?

Thanks to the popularity of computing, software is a common term for the programs that run on computers and related devices.



Try using software!

Which of the following is NOT a synonym for software?

A. program
B. process
C. application
D. computer

How to use software in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for software

/ (ˈsɒftˌwɛə) /

computing the programs that can be used with a particular computer systemCompare hardware (def. 2)
video cassettes and discs for use with a particular video system
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

Scientific definitions for software

[ sôftwâr′ ]

The programs, programming languages, and data that direct the operations of a computer system. Word processing programs and Internet browsers are examples of software. Compare hardware.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for software


The programs and instructions that run a computer, as opposed to the actual physical machinery and devices that compose the hardware.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.