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 Emergency dispatchers could hear yelling in the background of the call, according to the records. oregonlive, 18 Sep. 2021 This push comes against the background of growing enthusiasm for what is often called social and emotional learning, or SEL. Natalie Wexler, Forbes, 15 Sep. 2021 Sherry Birmingham, 48, shouted to her sister in the background of a phone call between Baker and their mother on Aug. 16. Phillip Jackson,, 14 Sep. 2021 In the background of the candid shot, an open-mouthed Liu can be seen gazing upon González, who channeled classic Hollywood actor Ava Gardner on the beige carpet in a stunning, ruby red gown. Los Angeles Times, 14 Sep. 2021 Nava Fedaeff, a meteorologist at the institute, said that on top of a background of global warming, this year there were more warm winds than usual from the north and warmer sea temperatures. Nick Perry, ajc, 6 Sep. 2021 Nava Fedaeff, a meteorologist at the institute, said that on top of a background of global warming, this year there were more warm winds than usual from the north and warmer sea temperatures. NBC News, 5 Sep. 2021 Through it all, Gyllenhaal assumes an unfussy, practically invisible non-style that conveys the essential (like that missing doll, visible in the background of a key scene) while privileging the performances. Peter Debruge, Variety, 3 Sep. 2021 Facebook Gaming is expanding the ability for some users to play popular music in the background of their gaming livestreams, as well as in clips and other on-demand videos, putting the platform a step ahead of competitor Twitch. Tatiana Cirisano, Billboard, 2 Sep. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The slow fadeout from top-tier concern to background noise illustrates how contentious issues sometimes die in Washington — not with clamorous showdown votes but a gradual realization that hey, people simply aren't talking about this any more. Alan Fram, ajc, 13 Aug. 2021 Kevin Burdette dispatches the speaking role of a newspaper correspondent, who relays background information to the audience. Tim Diovanni, Dallas News, 29 July 2021 There are plenty of comforting obscurities that lend themselves to background viewing, too. Rebecca Alter, Vulture, 21 June 2021 Federal prosecutors in court documents claim Delashaw knew Braziel routinely resold the firearms without subjecting his customers to background checks. Nick Penzenstadler, USA Today, 28 May 2021 How did your own personal stories and background with religion play into the building of your novels? Seija Rankin,, 2 June 2021 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, 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, 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, 8 Mar. 2021

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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Dictionary Entries Near background

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Last Updated

21 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Background.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Sep. 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 a red spot on a white background
2 : a position that attracts little attention He tried to stay in the background.
3 : the total of a person's experience, knowledge, and education

More from Merriam-Webster on background

Nglish: Translation of background for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of background for Arabic Speakers


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