cir·​cum·​scribe | \ ˈsər-kəm-ˌskrīb How to pronounce circumscribe (audio) \
circumscribed; circumscribing; circumscribes

Definition of circumscribe

transitive verb

1a : to constrict (see constrict sense 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
2a : 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

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Synonyms & Antonyms for circumscribe



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Choose the Right Synonym for 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

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.

Examples of circumscribe in a Sentence

The circle is circumscribed by a square. circumscribed his enthusiasm so as not to make the losing side feel worse
Recent Examples on the Web Some maintain that she is severely constrained by a political system where civilian power remains circumscribed by the still-powerful military—the generals, and not the civilian government, control internal security, defense and borders. Isabella Steger, Quartz, "What you need to know about Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s genocide court hearing," 8 Dec. 2019 However, since Messrs Brin and Page retain control via a dual-class share structure, his freedom will be circumscribed. The Economist, "Alphabet turns a Page and a Brin," 4 Dec. 2019 All parents circumscribe a world for their children. Elizabeth Weil, New York Times, "Did Venus Williams Ever Get Her Due?," 22 Aug. 2019 The Unbearable Lightness of Being—about humanity and love struggling to survive authoritarians who seek to control and circumscribe. National Geographic, "Who's the mom behind a 'great' person?," 9 Dec. 2019 Under pressure, ceremonial practices, including women’s coming-of-age ceremonies, were circumscribed, driven underground or ceased. Brianna Theobald, Time, "A 1970 Law Led to the Mass Sterilization of Native American Women. That History Still Matters," 27 Nov. 2019 Those limitations are particularly acute for Esther, a solitary and hardworking African-American seamstress whose options are circumscribed by poverty, prejudice and the secondary status of women in 1905 New York. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Review: Lynn Nottage’s ‘Intimate Apparel’ gets an earnest, solidly acted revival at New Village Arts," 30 Sep. 2019 Real-life pairings are usually circumscribed by a person’s social sphere, and the chances of meeting a total stranger are low. The Economist, "Facebook has unleashed a new dating service," 12 Sep. 2019 In parts of rural eastern Afghanistan, meanwhile, several officials this week described the Islamic State as having been circumscribed but not defeated. Washington Post, "The U.S. is nearing a deal with the Taliban. But another major threat looms in Afghanistan: the Islamic State.," 20 Aug. 2019

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.

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First Known Use of circumscribe

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for circumscribe

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

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Time Traveler for circumscribe

Time Traveler

The first known use of circumscribe was in the 15th century

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Last Updated

27 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Circumscribe.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 19 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for circumscribe


How to pronounce circumscribe (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of circumscribe

formal : to limit the size or amount of (something)
technical : to draw a shape around (another shape)

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