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back·​ground ˈbak-ˌ(g)rau̇nd How to pronounce background (audio)
often attributive
: the scenery or ground behind something
a picture of her son with mountains in the background
background scenery for the play
art : the part of a painting representing what lies behind objects in the foreground
dark shadows in the background of the painting
: an image that displays on a computer screen underneath the various available icons and windows
using a family photograph as her computer background
: an inconspicuous position
shy people who try to stay in the background
: the conditions that form the setting within which something is experienced
… set in a background of tropical luxuriance.Tom Marvel
: 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
: information essential to understanding of a problem or situation
background information
: 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
: intrusive sound or radiation (see radiation sense 2b) that interferes with received or recorded electronic signals
a recording with a lot of background noise
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)
: 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


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backgrounded; backgrounding; backgrounds

transitive verb

: to provide with background
… a richly backgrounded study of a silent movie star …Hollis Alpert
: 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
on background
: with the understanding that information offered for publication will not be attributed to a specific source
an official speaking on background
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.
Recent Examples on the Web
Ortega y Gasset Projects started in 2013 in Bushwick and is now collectively run as a nonprofit by eight artists of diverse backgrounds. Jennifer Wilson, New York Times, 26 Sep. 2023 Everyone comes from diverse backgrounds and has different lives outside of the team. Lisa Leslie, Glamour, 26 Sep. 2023 Some background: Swift is, for all intents and purposes, at the height of her career. WIRED, 26 Sep. 2023 While many students from minority or low-income backgrounds are likely the first in their families to attend college, legacy students are mostly White, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Ramishah Maruf, CNN, 25 Sep. 2023 Tens of millions of entrepreneurs from humble backgrounds built factories that flooded China with consumer durables, construction materials, food, and labor-intensive goods. Yasheng Huang, Foreign Affairs, 25 Sep. 2023 With a background in both art and healthcare marketing and fundraising, López starts immediately. Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times, 23 Sep. 2023 The entrance is dramatic: Curiel engaged artist Katy Yeow to create a ceiling mural from the front door to the end of the kitchen of green-, white- and cream-colored leaves against a dark green background. Caron Golden, San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 Sep. 2023 Calderón Kellett also chairs the arts nonprofit Creative Coalition’s Diversity Gap Initiative, which subsidizes the living expenses of new hires in the entertainment industry who come from low-income backgrounds. Time, 21 Sep. 2023
Rooted in the Jewish value of respect for all humanity, the Maltz Museum, through the contest, gives young people of all faiths and backgrounds a platform to speak out in support of inclusion and diversity. cleveland, 15 Sep. 2023 As a result, the thoroughness with which athletes are backgrounded today depends heavily on which school is recruiting them. Kenny Jacoby, USA Today, 13 July 2023 And maybe caught up in your own nostalgia too: The runaway train that backgrounds the first of Indy’s many high-speed melees also means to transport us swiftly and fondly down memory lane. Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times, 29 June 2023 In addition to background audio and mixed-reality content capture. Joe Wituschek, BGR, 3 Dec. 2022 Hundreds of individuals from investment institutions, banks and businesses registered to attend the event, and played an unusually outsized but background role in the lead-up to COP15. Time, 19 Dec. 2022 The plot of the show was brilliant, and on top of that, there were endless amounts of people, from main characters to background characters, wearing the best outfits. Kerane Marcellus, Essence, 22 Nov. 2022 Coming back with Drama for this SNOFALL was like Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan having a one-on-one in they background. Carl Lamarre, Billboard, 26 Oct. 2022 Not long after this trip, Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which amplifies background checks for gun buyers under 21 and further funds mental health efforts, among other provisions, into law. Katie Kilkenny, The Hollywood Reporter, 11 Oct. 2022 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'background.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use


1672, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1768, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of background was in 1672

Dictionary Entries Near background

Cite this Entry

“Background.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


: the scenery or ground that is behind a main figure or object (as in a painting)
: a position that attracts little attention
always tries to keep in the background
: the setting within which something takes place
: the events leading up to a situation
: information needed to understand a problem or situation
: the total of a person's experience, knowledge, and education
: a somewhat steady level of radiation in the natural environment (as from cosmic rays or radio activity)
: undesired sound that is heard in a system (as in radio or a tape recording) that produces sound from other sources

More from Merriam-Webster on background

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