Definition of tributary in English:



  • 1A river or stream flowing into a larger river or lake.

    ‘the Illinois River, a tributary of the Mississippi’
    • ‘Floodwater from this growing lake moved up tributary rivers.’
    • ‘Bags of household rubbish have been dumped into two streams - tributaries of the River Dalgan - while others have been thrown across fences and gateways into private property.’
    • ‘Here the Kali river and its tributaries, meander swiftly through the dense forests.’
    • ‘Miller Beck, a small tributary of the River Leven near Newby Bridge, has become the latest area to have a section cordoned off to protect the habitat of migratory fish from thirsty cattle.’
    • ‘But this map also clearly shows that the river has many canals, streams, branches and tributaries.’
    • ‘The central floodplain is watered by the Chao Phraya River and its tributaries.’
    • ‘While York appeared to have escaped any major flooding, a severe flood warning was put in place on the River Ure at Boroughbridge as waters from its tributary, the River Tutt, starting rising.’
    • ‘The largest stands are found not along the larger river channels but along slow-moving, meandering tributary streams where alluvial deposition is occurring.’
    • ‘The site was selected, in part, because of the deeply incised valley through which the Cohoke Creek, a tributary of the Pamunkey River, flows.’
    • ‘The water mass consists of tiny hilly streams, winding seasonal creeks, muddy canals, some truly magnificent rivers and their tributaries and distributaries.’
    • ‘Hudson River tributaries are tidal up to the first natural barrier or dam and these tidal tributary mouths have high biological diversity.’
    • ‘Another tip is to look for tributary streams flowing into the main river.’
    • ‘Pure Mozambique tilapia will only be located in isolated and separated upper streams and tributaries that are separated from the rest of the river systems by high, insurmountable walls.’
    • ‘The Big Hole River is the westernmost tributary stream in the Missouri river system.’
    • ‘The mighty Rufiji River is the lifeblood of the reserve and its numerous tributaries and oxbow lakes are ideal for boat safaris.’
    • ‘By what magic do they find their way back not just to the right river mouth, or the right tributary of that river, but to the precise little stream where they once hatched?’
    • ‘To venture into the almost trackless south of the Rufiji River; to the network of tributaries and oxbow lakes is truly wild.’
    • ‘Our streams are tributaries that feed into the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia River, which flows into the Potomac River and then to the Chesapeake Bay.’
    • ‘You'll find a mix of pine and hardwood forests, fields, three lakes, and two tributaries of Reedy Creek here.’
    • ‘Stonebridge Hill is a notorious stretch of road between Earls Colne and Halstead where the road bends sharply before crossing a bridge over Bourne Brook, a tributary of the River Colne.’
    headwater, branch, feeder, side stream
    View synonyms
  • 2historical A person or state that pays tribute to another state or ruler.

    ‘tributaries of the Ottoman Empire’
    • ‘The local tributary rulers were deposed because they refused to pay their dues, and the ruler of Gilan was making overtures to the Ottomans.’
    • ‘The monarchs of Ayutthaya found it expedient to enter into a tributary relationship with the Chinese emperors.’
    • ‘They had established their rule on the coast of Ceylon and had intervened with military force in dynastic disputes in Java, eventually making the island's rulers tributaries of the company.’
    • ‘Wallachia and Moldavia became tributaries of the Ottoman Empire from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, but kept their own princes.’
    • ‘In fact, the world would probably have been divided between endlessly warring absolutist and tributary states without even the possibility of escape that capitalism provides.’


Late Middle English (in tributary): from Latin tributarius, from tributum (see tribute). tributary dates from the early 19th century.