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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for contour

Synonyms: Noun

figure, outline, silhouette

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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

Looking comfortable in Harriet Jung and Reid Bartelme’s airy costumes — mists of tulle netting over neon unitards — the dancers carve their own rhythmic contours inside of the score, especially through darting footwork. Siobhan Burke, New York Times, "Paul Taylor’s Company Without Him: Onstage, a Transition to a New Era," 9 June 2019 The isolated peak's size and smooth contours — which are starkly different from the dwarf planet's generally pockmarked appearance — caused a stir among scientists. David Freeman, NBC News, "Dwarf planet Ceres' 'lonely mountain' mystery has been solved," 22 June 2019 The bare-bones production, directed and designed by Andreas Mitisek with lighting by Dan Weingarten, only outlined the opera’s dramatic contours. Heidi Waleson, WSJ, "‘The Central Park Five’ Review: Questions of Crime and Punishment," 18 June 2019 This frustrating, almost allegorical inequality contours the whole tale. Paul Di Filippo, Dallas News, "In Neal Stephenson's 'Fall,' there is life after death," 18 June 2019 This frustrating, almost allegorical inequality contours the whole tale. Paul Di Filippo, Washington Post, "In Neal Stephenson’s ‘Fall,’ there is life after death," 16 June 2019 Venture out onto the network of wooden boardwalks that wind their way through a multitude of travertine terraces with abstract shapes and contours. Niloufer Venkatraman, National Geographic, "6 can’t-miss stops in Yellowstone National Park," 13 June 2019 The home, built mostly by its owner, was designed to follow the natural contours and terrain steps, dodging existing trees and trying with all its might to blend. Joan Morris, The Mercury News, "Look inside: Los Gatos home mimics the contours of surrounding landscape," 4 June 2019 The seaming and belted waist create a nice, curvy mature contour while still showing off some skin. Brooke Bobb, Vogue, "Two Former Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund Finalists Have Teamed Up to Design The Ultimate Summer Style Kit," 1 Apr. 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

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 By directing radio-frequency heat one to three centimeters under the skin, this device claims to tighten and contour the arms, legs, abdomen, jaw line, and regions around the eyes. Allure, "The Skin-Care Glossary: A Comprehensive Guide to Everything You Need to Know," 17 Aug. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about contour

Statistics for contour

Last Updated

16 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for contour

The first known use of contour was in 1662

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

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

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


providing supplementary assistance

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Farm Idioms Quiz

  • cow coming home
  • What does 'poke' refer to in the expression 'pig in a poke'?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Syn City

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

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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