verb cir·cum·scribe \ ˈsər-kᵊm-ˌskrīb \
|Updated on: 12 Jul 2018

Definition of circumscribe

circumscribed; circumscribing; circumscribes
1 a : to constrict (see constrict 1) the range or activity of definitely and clearly
  • his role was carefully circumscribed
b : to define or mark off carefully
  • a study of plant species in a circumscribed area
2 a : to draw a line around
  • circumscribed the misspelled words
b : to surround by or as if by a boundary
  • fields circumscribed by tall trees
3 : to construct or be constructed around (a geometrical figure) so as to touch as many points as possible
  • a circle circumscribing a square

circumscribe was our Word of the Day on 12/28/2014. Hear the podcast!

Examples of circumscribe in a Sentence

  1. The circle is circumscribed by a square.

  2. circumscribed his enthusiasm so as not to make the losing side feel worse

Recent Examples of circumscribe from the Web

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

Did You Know?

Circumscribe has a lot of relatives in English. Its Latin predecessor circumscribere (which roughly translates as "to draw a circle around") derives from circum-, meaning "circle," and scribere, meaning "to write or draw." Among the many descendants of circum- are circuit, circumcise, circumference, circumnavigate, circumspect, circumstance, and circumvent. Scribere gave us such words as scribe and scribble, as well as ascribe, describe, and transcribe, among others. Circumscribe was first recorded in the 14th century; it was originally spelled circumscrive, but the "circumscribe" spelling had also appeared by the end of the century.

Origin and Etymology of circumscribe

Middle English circumscriven, from Latin circumscribere, from circum- + scribere to write, draw — more at scribe

Synonym Discussion of circumscribe

limit, restrict, circumscribe, confine mean to set bounds for. limit implies setting a point or line (as in time, space, speed, or degree) beyond which something cannot or is not permitted to go.
    • visits are limited to 30 minutes
restrict suggests a narrowing or tightening or restraining within or as if within an encircling boundary.
    • laws intended to restrict the freedom of the press
circumscribe stresses a restriction on all sides and by clearly defined boundaries.
    • the work of the investigating committee was carefully circumscribed
confine suggests severe restraint and a resulting cramping, fettering, or hampering.
    • our choices were confined by finances

CIRCUMSCRIBE Defined for English Language Learners


Definition of circumscribe for English Language Learners

  • : to limit the size or amount of (something)

  • : to draw a shape around (another shape)

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