noun, often attributive
back·​ground | \ ˈbak-ˌ(g)rau̇nd How to pronounce background (audio) \

Definition of background

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : the scenery or ground behind something a picture of her son with mountains in the background background scenery for the play
b art : the part of a painting representing what lies behind objects in the foreground dark shadows in the background of the painting
c : an image that displays on a computer screen underneath the various available icons and windows using a family photograph as her computer background
2 : an inconspicuous position shy people who try to stay in the background
3a : the conditions that form the setting within which something is experienced … set in a background of tropical luxuriance.— Tom Marvel
b(1) : the circumstances or events antecedent to a phenomenon or development the economic background of the American Civil War took place against a background of increasing tension
(2) : information essential to understanding of a problem or situation background information
c : the total of a person's experience, knowledge, and education comparing the candidates' backgrounds ran a background check to make sure she had no criminal record
4a : intrusive sound or radiation (see radiation sense 2b) that interferes with received or recorded electronic signals a recording with a lot of background noise
b physics : a more or less steady level of noise above which the effect (such as radioactivity) being measured by an apparatus (such as a Geiger counter) is detected especially : a somewhat steady level of radiation in the natural environment (as from cosmic rays)
5 : a level of computer processing at which the processor uses time not required for a primary task to work on an additional task — compare foreground entry 1
on background
: with the understanding that information offered for publication will not be attributed to a specific source an official speaking on background


backgrounded; backgrounding; backgrounds

Definition of background (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to provide with background … a richly backgrounded study of a silent movie star …— Hollis Alpert
2 : to give less attention or emphasis to (something) : to place (something) in the background Graham peoples her novel with genuine, endearing characters and keeps the grisly murders tactfully backgroundedPublishers Weekly Reviews

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Synonyms for background

Synonyms: Noun

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Choose the Right Synonym for background


background, setting, environment, milieu, mise-en-scène mean the place, time, and circumstances in which something occurs. background often refers to the circumstances or events that precede a phenomenon or development. the shocking decision was part of the background of the riots setting suggests looking at real-life situations in literary or dramatic terms. a militant reformer who was born into an unlikely social setting environment applies to all the external factors that have a formative influence on one's physical, mental, or moral development. the kind of environment that produces juvenile delinquents milieu applies especially to the physical and social surroundings of a person or group of persons. an intellectual milieu conducive to artistic experimentation mise-en-scène strongly suggests the use of properties to achieve a particular atmosphere or theatrical effect. a gothic thriller with a carefully crafted mise-en-scène

Examples of background in a Sentence

Noun Objects in the foreground are drawn larger than those in the background. a photograph of a house with mountains in the background red letters printed on a white background An ethnic conflict that was simmering away in the background finally erupted into civil war. Let me provide you with some background on this problem.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun With her background in systems engineering, Dr. Griffith sees the uterus not as an island but as an organ that interacts intimately with everything around it. New York Times, "Reinventing the Uterus, One Organoid at a Time," 27 Apr. 2021 How has your background in Korean traditional dance informed your acting? Natalie Morin,, "Han Yeri’s Fierce Role In Minari Helped Her Understand Her Own Mother," 26 Apr. 2021 Chosen because of his background in construction, Johnson works in coordination with Cliff Temple Baptist Church and other community leaders and organizations to host volunteer cleanup events on Saturday mornings. Maggie Kelleher, Dallas News, "Oak Cliff cemetery provides a map of Dallas’ past, and a way to look at its future," 26 Apr. 2021 In the book, Kimmerer combines her background in botany with old-fashioned indigenous wisdom to help readers reconnect with the natural world. cleveland, "Jewish Federation names its Eisenman Award recipients; local woman in need of liver transplant; more: Press Run," 23 Apr. 2021 My background in performance, photo, aesthetics, and storytelling deeply instilled the importance of physical, emotional, and psychological connection. Monica Mendal, Forbes, "How Anna Zahn Of Ricari Studios Is Revolutionizing The Self-Care Industry," 21 Apr. 2021 He's had some experiences in his own personal background, which led him to want to take this case when nobody else did. Maureen Lee Lenker,, "Big Sky producer breaks down spring premiere's new mysteries: 'We can't trust anybody'," 14 Apr. 2021 Her production work came about partly because of her music background but also because of her gritty determination. Washington Post, "Ethel Gabriel, trailblazing producer and executive at RCA Records, dies at 99," 12 Apr. 2021 Perhaps because of the diversity of his influences, as well as his own international background, Peck has little use for the pieties, buzzwords or individual villains of siloed social justice debates. Judy Berman, Time, "Exterminate All the Brutes," 7 Apr. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Meghan's cell phone number and the numbers of several of her relatives, background information on her ex-husband, and Meghan's social security number. Emily Dixon, Marie Claire, "A Private Investigator Says He Illegally Obtained Meghan Markle's Personal Information," 19 Mar. 2021 Lawmakers refused to add checks on service providers and organizations working with EOAs, rejecting amendments to prohibit discrimination, track demographic data and subject them to background checks. Olivia Krauth, The Courier-Journal, "After last-minute allowance for some private schools, House passes school choice bill," 11 Mar. 2021 The tropical fruit flavors of the Guatemalan natural were reduced to background notes, though there was a lovely hint of dark chocolate bitterness. Washington Post, "Each coffee brewing method has pros and cons. We tried 5 to help you find your perfect cup.," 8 Mar. 2021 Much of the four-part series' first episode is devoted to background information. Tyler Aquilina,, "What we learned from the Allen v. Farrow docuseries premiere: 'He was always hunting me'," 22 Feb. 2021 Both her startup experiences and background in larger organizations guide and inform Worksheet. Fortune Editors, Fortune, "During COVID, immigrants are getting the job done," 2 Dec. 2020 After that, the stars will meander relative to background quasars unless astronomers dispatch a follow-up mission to remap the sky. Joshua Sokol, Science | AAAS, "Precise maps of millions of bright quasars show our place in the cosmos as never before," 24 Nov. 2020 His special teams background surely helped, the G-Men covering an onside kick in the final minute far more effectively than, say, the Falcons would. Nate Davis, USA TODAY, "32 things we learned from Week 6 of the 2020 NFL season," 19 Oct. 2020 Winsor notes her presence as a third helping hand and background in golf as a major help for the team. Koki Riley, The Arizona Republic, "Having fun: It's what keeps Xavier Prep head golf coach Sister Lynn Winsor going," 9 Oct. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'background.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of background


1672, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1768, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for background

Time Traveler

The first known use of background was in 1672

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Statistics for background

Last Updated

30 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Background.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for background



English Language Learners Definition of background

: the part of a scene or picture that is farthest from the viewer : the part of a scene that is behind a main figure or object in a painting, photograph, etc.
: a surface or color that is behind or around something (such as a printed design)
: a position that attracts little attention


back·​ground | \ ˈbak-ˌgrau̇nd How to pronounce background (audio) \

Kids Definition of background

1 : the scenery or ground that is behind a main figure or object The sign had red letters printed on a white background.
2 : a position that attracts little attention He tried to keep in the background.
3 : the total of a person's experience, knowledge, and education Before hiring me, the company wanted to check my background.

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