verb cir·cum·scribe \ˈsər-kəm-ˌskrīb\

Definition of circumscribe

  1. transitive verb
  2. 1a :  to constrict (see constrict 1) the range or activity of definitely and clearly his role was carefully circumscribedb :  to define or mark off carefully a study of plant species in a circumscribed area

  3. 2a :  to draw a line around circumscribed the misspelled wordsb :  to surround by or as if by a boundary fields circumscribed by tall trees

  4. 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

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

First Known Use: 14th century

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


verb cir·cum·scribe \ˈsər-kəm-ˌskrīb\

Definition of circumscribe for English Language Learners

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

  • : to draw a shape around (another shape)

Seen and Heard

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


a rounded knoll or a ridge of ice

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