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From Latin tractābilis (that may be touched, handled, or managed), from tractō (take in hand, handle, manage), frequentative of trahō (draw).


  • (UK, US) IPA(key): /ˈtɹæk.tə.bəl/
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tractable (comparative more tractable, superlative most tractable)

  1. (of people) Capable of being easily led, taught, or managed.
    Synonyms: docile, manageable, governable
  2. (of a problem) Easy to deal with or manage
    • 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft, chapter 13, in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman:
      I have always found horses, an animal I am attached to, very tractable when treated with humanity and steadiness.
    • 1839, Charles Dickens Nicholas Nickleby, ch. 61:
      Of all the tractable, equal-tempered, attached, and faithful beings that ever lived, I believe he was the most so.
    • 1909, Louis Joseph Vance, chapter 18, in The Bronze Bell:
      [T]his matter of the vanishing bridge must have been arranged in order to put him in a properly subdued and tractable frame of mind.
    • 2008, Lynn Flewelling, Shadows Return[1], →ISBN, page 96:
      Some masters can be quite kind if you're meek and tractable.
  3. Capable of being shaped; malleable.
    • 1866, P. Le Neve Foster, "Report on the Art-Workmanship Prizes", reprinted in Journal of the Society of Arts, March 2, 1966:
      I need not point out the advantages of modelling in a material as durable as stone. . . . Mixed up with just enough water to form a stiff paste, it accommodates itself to the touch of the modelling tool. . . . There are two inherent difficulties in using it—one, it is not so tractable as clay. . . .
  4. (obsolete) Capable of being handled or touched.[1]
    Synonyms: palpable, practicable, feasible, serviceable
    • 1707, Thomas Brown, "Moll Quarles's Answer to Mother Creswell of Famous Memory" in The Second Volume of the Works of Mr. Tho. Brown, containing Letters from the Dead to the Living both Serious and Comical, part three, page 184:
      At leaſt five Hundred of theſe reforming Vultures are daily plundering our Pockets, and ranſacking our Houſes, leaving me ſometimes not one pair of Tractable Buttocks in my Vaulting-School to provide for my Family, or earn me ſo much as a Pudding for my next Sundays Dinner : [...]
  5. (mathematics) Sufficiently operationalizable or useful to allow a mathematical calculation to proceed toward a solution.
    • 1987, Ira Horowitz, "Market Structure Implications of Export-Price Uncertainty," Managerial and Decision Economics, vol. 8, no. 2, p. 134:
      This assumption is in the Raiffa and Schlaifer (1961, p. 72) spirit of using ‘a little ingenuity. . . to find a tractable function’ to quantify risk-preferences and probability judgments so as to make the analysis feasible.
  6. (computer science, of a decision problem) Algorithmically solvable fast enough to be practically relevant, typically in polynomial time.


Related terms[edit]