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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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 the Chinese national flag and an image of Xi in the background, the teens pretend to interact with the Chinese leader, giving him a kiss on the cheek or raising a toast together. Jane Li, Quartz, "Why US teens on TikTok are making “I love China” videos," 31 May 2020 Larkin’s bernedoodle puppy, Ellie, could be heard whimpering in the background. Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press, "Detroit Red Wings' adjustment to pandemic: Puppies, rollerblading and Zoom calls," 28 May 2020 Mindfulness too benefits from gentle background noises. Matt Jancer, Wired, "How to Create a Home Meditation Space," 27 May 2020 Judith Haggar said from her driveway after the accordion died down and a cowbell rang in the background. Morgan Krakow, Anchorage Daily News, "‘She brings more than just the mail’: West Anchorage residents say goodbye to longtime mail carrier," 24 May 2020 Ten years from now, will a robot hand us a plate of germ-free fried chicken while the virtual choir sings in the background? Leslie Anne Tarabella, al, "Did the virus kill Dinner on the Grounds?," 20 May 2020 The sport’s collective bargaining agreement expires in Dec. 2021, so that looms in the background, and teams have begun furloughing employees and implementing pay cuts. Bobby Nightengale,, "When will the MLB season begin? Here's the latest on the owners-players proposals to return," 19 May 2020 Conversations in a household environment bring background noises as well as echoes and reverberation due to room acoustics. Popular Science, "Zoom fatigue is real. Here’s what to do about it.," 12 May 2020 But there was no weird feedback or amplified background noise. Will Egensteiner, Popular Mechanics, "The Best Wireless Headphones for the Office, Traveling, and Working Out," 28 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb With their remarks, the Democrats were seeking to add more pressure to Mr. Trump, who indicated openness to background checks after the El Paso and Dayton shootings, and to Mr. McConnell, who has promised a Senate debate this fall. New York Times, "2020 Democrats Demand Gun Control, but Differ on Tactics," 2 Sep. 2019 The measures limit purchases of handguns to one each month; require that gun buyers submit to background checks; and allow local governments to ban guns in parks and public buildings. New York Times, "Amid Tight Security, Virginia Gun Rally Draws Thousands of Supporters," 20 Jan. 2020 Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer tweeted Thursday afternoon that McConnell should call for a Senate vote on two gun control bills related to background checks. Billy Kobin, The Courier-Journal, "Following Saugus High School shooting, #MassacreMitch is trending on Twitter," 14 Nov. 2019 Under standard protocol, the bureau responds to background investigation requests from the White House, not members of Congress. New York Times, "During Kavanaugh Hearings, Senator Alerted F.B.I. to New Allegation," 16 Sep. 2019 This notification must clearly state that the report is for employment purposes, and the notification must relate only to background checks. Fox News, "Churches conducting more background checks, but sex offenders still slipping through cracks," 24 Aug. 2019 Candidates considered most promising are invited in for in-person job interviews and submit to background checks. San Diego Union-Tribune, "San Diego Fire-Rescue faces challenges in recruiting, retaining firefighters," 5 Sep. 2019 Wouldn’t background guys Joakim Noah or Marreese Speights have been a better fit? Los Angeles Times, "Column: Dwight Howard’s actions will speak louder than words in second chance with Lakers," 4 Sep. 2019 Now, lawmakers are returning to Washington, D.C., after their summer recess and most Democrats are pushing the Senate to tackle gun control laws, specifically background checks., "Sept. 3, 2019: Welcome to our new newsletter!," 3 Sep. 2019

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

4 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Background.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for background


How to pronounce background (audio)

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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Comments on background

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