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coun·​te·​nance ˈkau̇n-tᵊn-ən(t)s How to pronounce countenance (audio)
: look, expression
… a countenance which expressed both good humor and intelligence …Sir Walter Scott
: mental composure
… startled, and also somewhat out of countenance.Arnold Bennett
: calm expression
He managed to keep his countenance through the ordeal.
: face, visage
especially : the face as an indication of mood, emotion, or character
The photograph showed his somber countenance.
: bearing or expression that offers approval or sanction : moral support
… her countenance of their unsafe amusements …Jane Austen
obsolete : bearing, demeanor


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countenanced; countenancing

transitive verb

: to extend approval or toleration to : sanction
refused to countenance any changes in the policy
countenancer noun

Did you know?

Let’s face it: the countenance familiar to modern speakers does not bear an obvious resemblance to its Latin root continēre, meaning “to hold together” (a root it shares with contain). But the path between continēre and countenance becomes clearer when we think of the figurative “holding together” present in the idea of restraint. When countenance was first used in English (having traveled from Latin through Anglo-French) it referred to a person’s appearance or behavior—their demeanor—which is a product of restraint, or the lack thereof. And from “demeanor” it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to “facial expression.” A few centuries after that development, in the late 16th century, countenance faced a new task head-on—use as a verb meaning “to extend approval or toleration to.”

Example Sentences

Noun … his white countenance was rendered eerie by the redness of the sagging lids below his eyes … John Updike, The Afterlife, 1994
You could see it in his frame and deportment … a beaming countenance, expansive salutations, a warm handshake … Simon Schama, Granta, Autumn 1990
All, all are kind to me but their tones fall strangely on my ear & their countenances meet mine not like home faces … Emily Dickinson 17 Feb. 1848, in Selected Letters(1914) 1986
Before receiving him, Henry had so possessed himself that no one could guess from his countenance with what sentiments he remembered the young king. Amy Kelly, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings, 1950
The photograph showed his somber countenance. a pleasant countenance that puts visitors at ease Verb But there are only two logical choices …  . If you can't countenance the first, you have to accept the second. Anna Quindlen, Newsweek, 6 Aug. 2007
… the constellation of family emotions—love, obedience, rivalry, repression—can turn a family into a moral system of its own in which even the greatest horrors can be countenanced in the name of loyalty and love … Scott Turow, Times Literary Supplement, 15 Mar. 1991
They disapproved of the marriage, and could not be expected to countenance it. Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, 1891
I don't countenance such behavior in children of any age. countenanced the delays and inconveniences of traveling by air with good grace See More
Recent Examples on the Web
The tone and timbre of his voice, his attire and his countenance evoke the sermons of my childhood. Caleb Gayle, New York Times, 14 Mar. 2023 Like Libra, Aquarius has a tendency to intellectualize, and like Libra, Aquarius can give off a cool countenance. Gala Mukomolova,, 15 Oct. 2021 Simply speaking, a moisturizer prevents this delicate organ from losing water, trapping moisture in thanks to its oily countenance, and keeping skin protected from environmental pollutants. Neeti Mehra, Treehugger, 7 Feb. 2023 For 17 years, Michael Deller, a retired librarian with a naturally white beard and a kind countenance, spent the weeks from the middle of November to Christmas dressed in a red suit and shiny black boots, working as a professional Santa Claus., 24 Dec. 2020 But his countenance can be deceiving. Adam Himmelsbach,, 26 Feb. 2023 Even Steven Spielberg paid homage to Truffaut, casting him in Close Encounters of the Third Kind as Lacombe, the French scientist whose wise-child countenance and otherworldly empathy could communicate across nations and with aliens. Armond White, National Review, 24 Feb. 2023 Daisey’s one-night-only show was an account of a year of living pandemically, recounted entertainingly in his signature countenance of enlightened outrage. Washington Post, 7 Apr. 2021 Bob sat alone at the counter, displaying a countenance that made other customers naturally leave an empty seat on either side of him. Tom Hanks, Harper’s Magazine , 5 Jan. 2023
Price acknowledged, however, that Washington is interested in wooing allies and partners away from countries like China, singling out ongoing efforts to integrate military defense systems across the Middle East, an arrangement where the U.S. would not countenance Beijing’s participation. Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times, 8 Dec. 2022 But Heyer’s killer openly identified with white supremacy, thus offering a motive well beyond what most Americans are willing to countenance. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 11 Aug. 2021 Feminism can countenance what is anathema to most political philosophies: humility regarding change’s slow progress. Lisa Wells, Harper’s Magazine , 15 Mar. 2023 The laws of Egypt appeared to countenance its sale. Graham Bowley, New York Times, 13 Dec. 2022 Few want to countenance an even more extreme option: that the LCDM model is at fault. Bydaniel Clery,, 28 Mar. 2023 Also, right now, some Democrats relish the prospect of leaving the field open for Republicans to publicly countenance a debt-ceiling breach and propose cuts to entitlement programs. John Cassidy, The New Yorker, 18 Jan. 2023 The insinuation is hard to countenance. John Tamny, Forbes, 4 Oct. 2022 The last nongeneric aspects of the building were probably its distinctive paneling and the address itself, and now both are gone, the latter because most real-estate moguls today are unable to countenance even the slightest bit of creatively risky wit. Christopher Bonanos, Curbed, 12 Aug. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'countenance.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



Middle English contenance, from Anglo-French cuntenance, contenance, from Medieval Latin continentia, from Latin, restraint, from continent-, continens, present participle of continēre to hold together — more at contain


derivative of countenance entry 1

First Known Use


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 5


1568, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of countenance was in the 13th century


Dictionary Entries Near countenance

Cite this Entry

“Countenance.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 29 May. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
coun·​te·​nance ˈkau̇nt-ᵊn-ənts How to pronounce countenance (audio)
: calm expression
: calmness of mind
: an expression on the face
especially : a facial expression as a sign of mood, emotion, or character
: a show of approval
gave no countenance to the plan


2 of 2 verb
countenanced; countenancing
: tolerate sense 1, encourage
refused to countenance their behavior

More from Merriam-Webster on countenance

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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