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variety definition


This page has 16 definitions of variety in English. Variety is a noun. Examples of how to use variety in a sentence are shown. Also define these 0 related words and terms: .

See also: variëty



From Middle French varieté (variety) (modern French variété (variety; genre, type)) or directly from its etymon Latin varietās (difference; diversity, variety) + English -ty (suffix forming abstract nouns from adjectives).[1] Varietās is derived from varius (different, diverse, various; variegated) (possibly ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *h₁weh₂- (to abandon; to give out; to leave)) + -tās (suffix forming feminine abstract nouns indicating a state of being). The English word displaced the native Old English mislīcnes.

Sense 1.3.2 (“total number of distinct states of a system; logarithm to the base 2 of the total number of distinct states of a system”) was coined by the English psychiatrist William Ross Ashby (1903–1972) in his work An Introduction to Cybernetics (1956).[2]



variety (countable and uncountable, plural varieties)

  1. (countable)
    1. A deviation or difference.
      • 1791, Oliver Goldsmith, “Of the Tortoise, and Its Kinds”, in An History of the Earth, and Animated Nature. [], new edition, volume VI, London: [] F[rancis] Wingrave, successor to Mr. [John] Nourse, [], →OCLC, page 347:
        The difference, therefore, in theſe animals, ariſes rather from their habits than their confirmation; and, upon examination, there vvill be leſs variety found betvveen them than betvveen birds that live upon land, and thoſe that ſvvim upon the vvater.
    2. A specific variation of something.
      1. (biology, loosely) An animal or plant (or a group of such animals or plants) with characteristics causing it to differ from other animals or plants of the same species; a cultivar.
        • 1629, John Parkinson, “Aconitum. Wolfebane.”, in Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris. [], London: [] Hvmfrey Lownes and Robert Yovng [], →OCLC, page 215:
          Many more ſorts of varieties of theſe kindes [of Aconitum anthora] there are, but theſe onely, as the moſt ſpecious, are nourſed vp in Floriſts Gardens for pleaſure; the other are kept by ſuch as are Catholicke obſeruers of all natures ſtore.
        • 1707, J[ohn] Mortimer, “Rose-Tree”, in The Whole Art of Husbandry; or, The Way of Managing and Improving of Land. [], 2nd edition, London: [] J[ohn] H[umphreys] for H[enry] Mortlock [], and J[onathan] Robinson [], published 1708, →OCLC, book XIII, page 476:
          But of all theſe varieties of Roſes, the beſt and moſt eſtemed amongſt the Red, are thoſe called the Roſe of the VVorld, the Red Belgick, the Red Marble, the Roſe vvithout Thorns, and the Red Provence Roſe.
        • 1859 November 24, Charles Darwin, “Variation under Domestication”, in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, [], London: John Murray, [], →OCLC, page 7:
          When we look to the individuals of the same variety or sub-variety of our older cultivated plants and animals, one of the first points which strikes us, is, that they generally differ much more from each other, than do the individuals of any one species or variety in a state of nature.
        1. (botany, taxonomy) A rank in a taxonomic classification below species and (if present) subspecies, and above form; hence, an organism of that rank.
          Synonym: (abbreviation) var.
          Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum is a variety of Capsicum annuum commonly known as chiltepin or Indian pepper.
      2. (linguistics) A specific form of a language, neutral to whether that form is an accent, dialect, register, etc., and to its prestige level; an isolect or lect.
        • 2014 March, James Lambert, “Diachronic Stability in Indian English Lexis”, in World Englishes[2], volume 33, number 1, Oxford, Oxfordshire, New York, N.Y.: Pergamon Press for the International Association for World Englishes, →DOI, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 114:
          The mere existence of a dictionary of a certain variety of English does not automatically confer acceptance of that variety.
      3. (philately) A stamp, or set of stamps, which has one or more characteristics (such as colour, paper, etc.) differing from other stamps in the same issue, especially if such differences are intentionally introduced.
    3. A collection or number of different things.
      Synonyms: array, assortment
      Antonym: uniformity
      • 1563 February 4 (Gregorian calendar), “A Memoriall for Sir Thomas Smyth Knight, Sent by the Quene’s Majestie the … of January 1562”, in [Patrick] Forbes, editor, A Full View of the Public Transactions in the Reign of Q. Elizabeth: Or A Particular Account of All the Memorable Affairs of That Queen, [], volume II, London: [] J. Bettenham, and sold by G. Hawkins, [], published 1741, →OCLC, page 312:
        But nether in this maner, nor any other particular procedyng, can we ſufficiently direct yow: but, notyng unto yow the generalitees of our deſyre, referr yow to apply your doings to the varieté and occurrency of thyngs there.
      • 1634, T[homas] H[erbert], “Of Mallabar”, in A Relation of Some Yeares Travaile, Begunne Anno 1626. into Afrique and the Greater Asia, [], London: [] William Stansby, and Jacob Bloome, →OCLC, page 186:
        And in this may receiue ſome immediate benefit, if by contemplation, hee behold the varietie of temporary bleſſings, no part in the Vniuerſe exceeding theſe, not vvith-held from Pagan people afforded by Gods al-knovving and guiding Prouidence, vvhich notvvithſtanding being mixt vvith vnthankfulneſſe, damnable Idolatry, and variety of carnall obiects turne to their greater diſtruction, and endleſſe miſeries.
      • 1791, Oliver Goldsmith, “Of Lythophytes and Sponges”, in An History of the Earth, and Animated Nature. [], new edition, volume VIII, London: [] F[rancis] Wingrave, successor to Mr. [John] Nourse, [], →OCLC, page 122:
        In other parts of the ſea are ſeen ſponges of various magnitude, and extraordinary appearances, aſſuming a variety of phantaſtic forms like large muſhrooms, mitres, fonts, and flovver-pots.
      • 1897 December (indicated as 1898), Winston Churchill, chapter IV, in The Celebrity: An Episode, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company; London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., →OCLC, pages 46–47:
        One morning I had been driven to the precarious refuge afforded by the steps of the inn, after rejecting offers from the Celebrity to join him in a variety of amusements. But even here I was not free from interruption, for he was seated on a horse-block below me, playing with a fox terrier.
      • 2013 January, Katie L. Burke, “Book Review: Ecological Dependency: Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. David Quammen. 587 pp. W. W. Norton and Company, 2012. $28.95.”, in American Scientist[3], volume 101, number 1, New Haven, Conn.: Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 22 January 2013, page 64:
        In his first book since the 2008 essay collection Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature, David Quammen looks at the natural world from yet another angle: the search for the next human pandemic, what epidemiologists call “the next big one.” His quest leads him around the world to study a variety of suspect zoonoses—animal-hosted pathogens that infect humans.
      1. (algebra)
        1. In universal algebra: an equational class; the class of all algebraic structures of a given signature, satisfying a given set of identities.
          Synonyms: equational variety, variety of algebras
        2. (algebraic geometry) Ellipsis of algebraic variety (the set of solutions of a given system of polynomial equations over the real or complex numbers; any of certain generalisations of such a set that preserves the geometric intuition implicit in the original definition).
      2. (cybernetics) The total number of distinct states of a system; also, the logarithm to the base 2 of the total number of distinct states of a system. [from 1956.]
    4. (radio, television, theater) Ellipsis of variety performance. or variety show (a type of entertainment featuring a succession of short, unrelated performances by various artistes such as (depending on the medium) acrobats, comedians, dancers, magicians, singers, etc.).
  2. (uncountable)
    1. The quality of being varied; diversity.
      Synonyms: see Thesaurus:nonuniformity
      Antonyms: sameness; see also Thesaurus:uniformity
      Variety is the spice of life.
    2. (radio, television, theater) The kind of entertainment given in variety performances or shows; also, the production of, or performance in, variety performances or shows.

Usage notes

Variety can be preceded with either a singular or plural form of the verb be: “there is a variety of options to choose from” and “there are a variety of options to choose from” are both considered grammatical. However, in the construction variety of [something], the word variety is generally followed by a plural noun and a plural form of be: “a variety of flavours were evident in the dish”.[3]

Alternative forms

Derived terms

Related terms


See also


  1. ^ variety, n.”, in OED Online , Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2022; “variety, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ W[illiam] Ross Ashby (1956), “Quantity of Variety”, in An Introduction to Cybernetics, 1st American edition, New York, N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons [], →OCLC, part 2 (Variety), page 126: “The word variety, in relation to a set of distinguishable elements, will be used to mean either (i) the number of distinct elements, or (ii) the logarithm to the base 2 of the number, the context indicating the sense used.”
  3. ^ “variety, noun”, in Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries[1], 2021, archived from the original on 2021-05-06.

Further reading