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 pluralthe 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

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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

Noun He loved the sleek contours of the car. The map showed the contour of the coastline.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun But like the broader contours of American politics, the impeachment proceedings are so far breaking along partisan lines. Julie Pace, Twin Cities, "1 Year Out: A divided nation lurches toward 2020 election," 3 Nov. 2019 The suits are designed to integrate with the harness and seat contours of the spacecraft, to ensure comfort, particularly during the high G portions of flight. Nadia Neophytou, The Hollywood Reporter, "With a $250K Ticket to Space, Virgin Galactic Civilian Astronauts Will Be Outfitted in This Customized Spacesuit," 17 Oct. 2019 The texts also veer into the broad contours of a quid-pro-quo in which the announcement of a Ukraine investigation would secure a sought-after White House visit. Eric Tucker, San Diego Union-Tribune, "‘I think it’s crazy’: Takeaways of diplomats’ text messages," 4 Oct. 2019 Satellite imagery from the Amazon confirms that research; between the 1980s and 2018, deforestation crept all the way up to and against the exact contours of the Xingu Indigenous Park in Brazil, for example. Daniel Wolfe, Quartz, "The fires in the Amazon were likely set intentionally," 21 Aug. 2019 The sun appears orange as a result of light-reflecting particles in the smoke, with the turbulent gray smoke from the wildfire contrasting sharply with the smooth contours of the whitish cloud. David Freeman, NBC News, "Rare 'fire cloud' looks otherworldly in photo snapped from NASA's flying lab," 17 Aug. 2019 In each story the emotional and psychological contours of trauma, loss and abandonment are explored so ruthlessly that basic, bloodcurdling shocks seem almost a relief by comparison. Justin Chang,, "Review: In the unsettling ‘Midsommar,’ the nightmare unfolds in broad daylight," 1 July 2019 No surprises here: Life expectancy is lowest throughout much of the South and highest through the upper Midwest, in line with the general contours of such individual characteristics as income, happiness and overall health. The Washington Post, The Mercury News, "How moving to the right place can prolong your life," 28 June 2019 He and Hartle analyzed the issue of the contour of integration in 1990. Natalie Wolchover, WIRED, "Cosmologists Clash Over the Beginning of the Universe," 16 June 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb After a gondola and chairlift ride, followed by 90 minutes of marching uphill on grassy slopes, the trail contoured up the valley and onto the lateral moraine. Simon Akam, Outside Online, "You Won’t Pass Chamonix’s Mountain Guiding Test," 27 Nov. 2019 Researchers at the University of Michigan have created a new sensor for the shoulders that can contour to their rounded shape. Courtney Linder, Popular Mechanics, "Using Japanese Paper Art To Heal the Human Body," 16 Oct. 2019 Her personality has been key in connecting to the public via social media, a major driver for her makeup known for its vibrant color and contouring popular among Arab women. Washington Post, "For Huda Kattan, beauty has become a billion-dollar business," 14 Oct. 2019 Her personality has been key in connecting to the public via social media, a major driver for her makeup known for its vibrant color and contouring popular among Arab women. Malak Harb, San Diego Union-Tribune, "For Huda Kattan, beauty has become a billion-dollar business," 13 Oct. 2019 The gal can contour, even when the makeup client in question is…a piece of fruit. Leah Prinzivalli, Allure, "We Asked Anne Hathaway to Contour a Nectarine, and We're Honestly Impressed," 13 Aug. 2019 After a quick clean up of the lines with a Q-tip, Hudson throws a little mascara on before contouring her face and adding blush to her cheeks. Kate Branch, Vogue, "Jennifer Hudson Sings Her Way to the Perfect Cat-Eye “Swoop”," 11 Dec. 2018 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

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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Time Traveler for contour

Time Traveler

The first known use of contour was in 1662

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Statistics for contour

Last Updated

3 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Contour.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 10 December 2019.

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More Definitions for contour


How to pronounce contour (audio)

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

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for contour

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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).


to state or do over again or repeatedly

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