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

backdrop, ground

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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


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

Federal officials say the gunman in the attack obtained a rifle despite failing a federal background check in 2014. Fox News, "Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ‘willing to take an arrow’ in bucking NRA on background checks," 8 Sep. 2019 In 2018, there were more than 26 million background checks conducted and fewer than 100,000 people failed. Lisa Marie Pane, Houston Chronicle, "US mass shooters exploited gaps, errors in background checks," 7 Sep. 2019 Ator had failed a background check and was denied a gun, state Rep. Tom Craddick told the Midland Reporter-Telegram., "Booming West Texas oil patch shaken by shooting spree as death toll rises to 8," 1 Sep. 2019 About 9,000 semi-automatic rifles were imported from Romania last year, The Tribune reports, with online buyers in the U.S. required to go through a federal background check. Lauren Mcgaughy, Dallas News, "Report: El Paso shooting suspect said he got his gun from Romania, ammo from Russia," 28 Aug. 2019 After recent discussions with LaPierre, in the wake of mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, Trump has reportedly backed away from favoring more stringent background checks for gun owners. Mike Spies, ProPublica, "The NRA Used Funds to Settle a Sexual Harassment Claim Against a Top Official — And Then He Was Accused Again," 28 Aug. 2019 Wooten insisted that whoever won the AM-15 rifle would have to undergo a background check and would have to be over 18., "When the cheer club wanted to raffle an AM-15 semiauto rifle, this mom stepped in," 24 Aug. 2019 For verification purposes, Sponsor reserves the right to do a background check and/or request additional information on any potential winner. Kwasi Boadi, Billboard, ""The Crowd Control Contest" Sponsored by Billboard, a division of MRC Media, LLC ("Sponsor")," 24 Aug. 2019 The Brady Campaign, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control, scores states based on gun safety laws such as background checks, carry qualifications, and permit requirements, as well as other factors. Meagan Weiland, Science | AAAS, "Geography of loss—a global look at the uneven toll of suicide," 23 Aug. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

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 But more than anything, Swift gets to play with her attitude, dropping in signature vocal quirks over the toe-tapping beat, backgrounded by a chorus of dramatic sighs. Raisa Bruner, Time, "Let's Discuss the Lyrics to Every Song on Taylor Swift's Lover," 23 Aug. 2019 Stay backgrounded: Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers along with fellow Democratic lawmakers introduced their plan to expand background checks to most gun sales in the state, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Molly Beck reports. Seth A. Richardson,, "PA, WI governors make push for gun reforms: The Flyover," 16 Aug. 2019 Then, in his national address, the reference to background check legislation disappeared. Chicago Tribune, Twin Cities, "Other voices: For El Paso, Dayton and the nation, close the gun law loophole," 7 Aug. 2019 There had been no internal discussion about linking immigration legislation to background checks - as the president tweeted Monday - because there was no plan to mention that in the speech, White House officials said. Author: Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, Anchorage Daily News, "Analysis: When a divisive leader aims to act as the nation’s healer after mass shootings," 6 Aug. 2019 According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, California and New York require point-of-sale background checks for ammunition buyers, similar to background checks on firearm purchasers. Edward Fitzpatrick,, "In Rhode Island’s gun debate, regulations about ammunition purchases are noticeably absent," 10 June 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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Statistics for background

Last Updated

11 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for background

The first known use of background was in 1672

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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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Comments on background

What made you want to look up background? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


one from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

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