con·​tour | \ ˈkän-ˌtu̇r How to pronounce contour (audio) \

Definition of contour

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : an outline especially of a curving or irregular figure : shape the sleek contours of the car The map shows the contour of the coastline. also : the line representing this outline
2 : the general form or structure of something : characteristic often used in plural the contours of a melody… the contours of political and social theories.— James G. Paradis
3 : a usually meaningful change in intonation in speech



Definition of contour (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : following contour lines or forming furrows or ridges along them contour flooding contour farming
2 : made to fit the contour of something a contour couch contour sheets


contoured; contouring; contours

Definition of contour (Entry 3 of 3)

transitive verb

1a : to shape the contour of
b : to shape so as to fit contours
2 : to construct (something, such as a road) in conformity to a contour

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Synonyms for contour

Synonyms: Noun

figure, outline, silhouette

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Choose the Right Synonym for contour


outline, contour, profile, silhouette mean the line that bounds and gives form to something. outline applies to a line marking the outer limits or edges of a body or mass. traced the outline of his hand contour stresses the quality of an outline or a bounding surface as being smooth, jagged, curving, or sharply angled. a car with flowing contours profile suggests a varied and sharply defined outline against a lighter background. a portrait of her face in profile silhouette suggests a shape especially of a head or figure with all detail blacked out in shadow leaving only the outline clearly defined. photograph in silhouette against a bright sky

Examples of contour in a Sentence


He loved the sleek contours of the car. The map showed the contour of the coastline.

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Rodis wants both to shield sensitive body parts and to make their contours undetectable. Kate Julian, The Atlantic, "The Sex-Scene Coach," 6 Aug. 2019 But the contours of that hate are irrelevant, Phillips argues, and often for show. Brian Barrett, WIRED, "The Wrong Way to Talk About a Shooter's Manifesto," 4 Aug. 2019 Though the broad contours of the problems all three counties face may be the same, experts say the specifics vary significantly, and how to fix them often varies not just by country, but by locality. Jen Kirby, Vox, "How to address the causes of the migration crisis, according to experts," 17 July 2019 Even today, the precise contours of Chudyk’s grievances are not clear. Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica, "How a CEO fiddled while beloved board game Glory to Rome crashed and burned," 8 Sep. 2018 On a clear day, the contours of the coast of Morocco, the world’s top producer of hashish, are visible across a busy shipping waterway at the mouth of the Mediterranean, just 30 kilometers (less than 19 miles) away. Washington Post, "In a corner of Spain, a struggle to stop drug smuggling," 3 Apr. 2018 With tweets and a vote, President Donald Trump and House Democrats established the sharp and emotionally raw contours of the 2020 election campaigns. Lisa Mascaro,, "President Trump vs. Dems: ‘Racist,’ ‘socialist’ lines drawn for 2020," 18 July 2019 The confession has the contours of catharsis; Bonnie is making it, though, to a woman who is comatose. Megan Garber, The Atlantic, "Big Little Lies Forgot the Thing That Made It Great," 16 July 2019 But as science charts the contours of cellular function in ever-greater detail, a more fluid conception of cellular life and death has begun to gain the upper hand. Quanta Magazine, "Cellular Life, Death and Everything in Between," 8 July 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Indeed, contouring has long been associated with performance; actors in Elizabethan England smeared chalk and soot on their face. Sarah Todd, Quartzy, "Why getting dewy skin became a global obsession," 24 July 2019 Next up, a sweep of highlighter gets swooshed across her skin, followed by a contouring routine for daytime done with shimmering bronzer rather than heavy matte powder. Jenna Rennert, Vogue, "Shanina Shaik’s Guide to a Summer Skin Glow-Up," 12 June 2019 Next up, a swirl of bronzer and an on-the-go girl’s guide to contouring. Jenna Rennert, Vogue, "Kourtney Kardashian’s Guide to Natural-ish Masking and Makeup," 2 Apr. 2019 It's angled perfectly to contour your nose and jawline. $6 (Shop Now). Stephanie Saltzman, Allure, "18 Reasons Every Beauty Lover Should Shop at Target," 1 Oct. 2018 Kim announced that KKW Beauty would be releasing their first-ever powder contouring kit and took to Instagram to swatch the new product. Kelsey Stiegman, Seventeen, "Every Time Jeffree Star Has Publicly Feuded With the Kardashian/Jenner Family," 18 Mar. 2019 After applying the foundation with her fingers, Kelsey wraps up her face makeup with a touch of contouring and concealer. Lauren Rearick, Teen Vogue, "Kelsey Merritt Shared the Makeup Routine She Followed for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show Casting," 13 Nov. 2018 CoolSculpting is a non-invasive body contouring treatment. Roxanne Adamiyatt, Town & Country, "Everything You Need to Know About CoolSculpting (and Were Too Afraid to Ask)," 11 Jan. 2019 Take a sheer layer of white paint and use it to contour your face, focusing on your nose and upper lip. Blake Bakkila, Good Housekeeping, "We're Obsessed With This Easy Cat Makeup Tutorial for Halloween," 5 Sep. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'contour.' 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 contour


1662, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1844, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1871, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for contour


French, from Italian contorno, from contornare to round off, from Medieval Latin, to turn around, from Latin com- + tornare to turn on a lathe — more at turn entry 1

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Statistics for contour

Last Updated

13 Aug 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for contour

The first known use of contour was in 1662

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More Definitions for contour



English Language Learners Definition of contour

: the outline or outer edge of something


con·​tour | \ ˈkän-ˌtu̇r How to pronounce contour (audio) \

Kids Definition of contour

: the outline of a figure, body, or surface the contour of the coastline


con·​tour | \ ˈkän-ˌtu̇(ə)r How to pronounce contour (audio) \

Medical Definition of contour

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: an outline especially of a curving or irregular figure also : the line representing this outline


transitive verb

Medical Definition of contour (Entry 2 of 2)

: to shape the contour of contour a gingiva in gingivoplasty

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More from Merriam-Webster on contour

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with contour

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for contour

Spanish Central: Translation of contour

Nglish: Translation of contour for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of contour for Arabic Speakers

Comments on contour

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of or relating to the heavens

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