circumscribe

verb
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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms & Antonyms for circumscribe

Synonyms

cap, confine, hold down, limit, restrict

Antonyms

exceed

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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

But the country is now seriously facing the prospect that even if Republican hegemony is broken in the 2018 and 2020 elections, the entrenched five-vote Republican majority will sharply circumscribe their ability to govern. Matthew Yglesias, Vox, "Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation will delegitimize the Supreme Court — and that’s good," 5 Oct. 2018 Among the many happy consequences, freedom of religion, which had been repressed or circumscribed under communism, was restored. The Economist, "Church leaders in central and eastern Europe remain surprisingly loth to condemn their old adversary," 11 Aug. 2019 Assuming that a circumference C exists, circumscribed to the dark field DF, verify that the straight line r is external to such circumference. Quanta Magazine, "An Italian Cosmologist Who Wanders in Dante’s Dark Wood," 13 Nov. 2018 The doc’s consistent theme is the ways in which labels categorize — and, sometimes, circumscribe — members of the LGBTQ community. Harry Windsor, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Queer Japan': Film Review | Outfest 2019," 22 July 2019 In reality, his fiction is by no means circumscribed by its focus on a particular historical moment. Tim Parks, Harper's magazine, "Behind the High Walls," 10 Feb. 2019 But this was a prime minister who, more than any other, had circumscribed herself, by having quite unnecessarily called, and effectively lost, a general election she had confidently expected to win convincingly. Martin Farr, Quartz, "Donald Trump’s state visit is a sorry sign of the times for the UK," 4 June 2019 There are times when private actors and places can be treated like government ones, such that the First Amendment can circumscribe that company’s practices. Emily Stewart, Vox, "Trump keeps complaining about bias on Twitter — but what can he do about it? 8 experts weigh in.," 23 Aug. 2018 But appellate courts might establish new constraints on executive power that circumscribe a President’s response to future crises. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Trump’s Presidential Emergency," 10 Jan. 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.

See More

First Known Use of circumscribe

14th 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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about circumscribe

Listen to Our Podcast about circumscribe

Statistics for circumscribe

Last Updated

6 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for circumscribe

The first known use of circumscribe was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for circumscribe

circumscribe

verb

English Language Learners Definition of circumscribe

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on circumscribe

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

WORD OF THE DAY

friendly or mild

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Where in the World? A Quiz

  • peter bruegel tower of babel painting
  • What language does pajama come from?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

TAKE THE QUIZ
Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!