To look up an entry in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, use the search window above. For best results, after typing in the word, click on the “Search” button instead of using the “enter” key.

Some compound words (like bus rapid transit, dog whistle, or identity theft) don’t appear on the drop-down list when you type them in the search bar. For best results with compound words, place a quotation mark before the compound word in the search window.

guide to the dictionary



The Usage Panel is a group of nearly 200 prominent scholars, creative writers, journalists, diplomats, and others in occupations requiring mastery of language. Annual surveys have gauged the acceptability of particular usages and grammatical constructions.

The Panelists



The new American Heritage Dictionary app is now available for iOS and Android.



The articles in our blog examine new words, revised definitions, interesting images from the fifth edition, discussions of usage, and more.


See word lists from the best-selling 100 Words Series!

Find out more!



Check out the Dictionary Society of North America at

stem 1 (stĕm)
a. The main ascending part of a plant; a stalk or trunk.
b. A slender stalk supporting or connecting another plant part, such as a leaf or flower.
c. A banana stalk bearing several bunches of bananas.
2. A connecting or supporting part, especially:
a. The tube of a tobacco pipe.
b. The slender upright support of a wineglass or goblet.
c. The small projecting shaft with an expanded crown by which a watch is wound.
d. The rounded rod in the center of certain locks about which the key fits and is turned.
e. The shaft of a feather or hair.
f. The upright stroke of a typeface or letter.
g. Music The vertical line extending from the head of a note.
3. The main line of descent of a family.
4. Linguistics The main part of a word to which affixes are added.
5. Nautical The curved upright beam at the fore of a vessel into which the hull timbers are scarfed to form the prow.
6. The tubular glass structure mounting the filament or electrodes in an incandescent bulb or vacuum tube.
v. stemmed, stem·ming, stems
To have or take origin or descent: Her success stems mostly from hard work.
1. To remove the stem of: stemmed the apples.
2. To provide with a stem: wine glasses that are stemmed.
3. To make headway against (a tide or current, for example).
from stem to stern
From one end to another.

[Middle English, from Old English stefn, stemn; see stā- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

Synonyms: stem1, arise, derive, emanate, flow, issue, originate, proceed, rise, spring
These verbs mean to come forth or come into being: customs that stem from the past; misery that arose from war; rights that derive from citizenship; disapproval that emanated from the teacher; happiness that flows from their friendship; prejudice that issues from fear; a proposal that originated in the Congress; a mistake that proceeded from carelessness; rebellion that rises in the provinces; new industries that spring from technology.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.