coun·​te·​nance | \ ˈkau̇n-tᵊn-ən(t)s How to pronounce countenance (audio) , ˈkau̇nt-nən(t)s \

Definition of countenance

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : look, expression … a countenance which expressed both good humor and intelligence …— Sir Walter Scott
b : mental composure … startled, and also somewhat out of countenance.— Arnold Bennett
c : calm expression He managed to keep his countenance through the ordeal.
2 : face, visage especially : the face as an indication of mood, emotion, or character The photograph showed his somber countenance.
3 : bearing or expression that offers approval or sanction : moral support … her countenance of their unsafe amusements …— Jane Austen
4 archaic
5 obsolete : bearing, demeanor


countenanced; countenancing

Definition of countenance (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

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

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Other Words from countenance


countenancer noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for countenance

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Verb

Antonyms: Verb

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Examples of countenance in a Sentence

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
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun While one obviously can’t form reliable conclusions about a writer on the basis of her countenance in a single photograph, Benjamin Moser’s remarkably perceptive and penetrating new biography of Sontag in many ways confirms my snap judgment. Peter Tonguette, National Review, "Susan Sontag’s Lifelong Literary Pose," 24 Oct. 2019 His typically cheery countenance creases and turns somber. Romesh Ratnesar/redmond, Time, "How Microsoft's Brad Smith is Trying to Restore Your Trust in Big Tech," 8 Sep. 2019 While gray speckles in his beard betray his youthful countenance, Thompson’s face has largely remained the same. Elahe Izadi, Washington Post, "The quiet brilliance of Kenan Thompson," 28 Aug. 2019 In short, a substantial share of right-leaning voters in this country were willing to embrace, or at least countenance, a brand of conservative politics with fewer free-market nostrums and more appeals to potent sociocultural anxieties. Osita Nwanevu, The New Yorker, "Conservative Nationalism Is Trumpism for Intellectuals," 21 July 2019 Woods had just bogeyed the fifth and double bogeyed the short sixth, and his countenance was as foreboding as the clouds out to sea. Rob Hodgetts, CNN, "Tiger Woods 'sore' and 'scraping it around' at the Open," 18 July 2019 Leicester Landon gives Don John a cool, conniving countenance., "Wittiness and romance make ‘Much Ado’ quite something at Tulane Shakespeare Fest," 19 June 2019 Eddie’s Cafe Helen and Min Hwang have been holding it down at Eddie’s Cafe for decades, seeing the color and countenance of the folks walking by their corner of Divisadero and Fulton change drastically over time. Soleil Ho,, "When being Asian American means bacon and eggs and hamburgers," 6 June 2019 Taft’s successor, Woodrow Wilson, would have slid beneath the waters—a saint of gothic countenance. Lance Morrow, WSJ, "Did Chivalry Go Down With the Titanic?," 14 Dec. 2018 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The enforcement of such nonempirical standards as taste and judgment implies a kind of cultural and aesthetic hierarchy that Silicon Valley’s ruling class embraces ruthlessly but will never admit to countenancing. Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, "Small Policy Tweaks Won’t Fix Facebook," 20 Oct. 2019 Critics have long felt the need to compare her performances to a man’s, seemingly unable to countenance the fact that such ferocious, almost demonic, power and nimbleness could come from a woman. E.h., The Economist, "The wondrous power of Martha Argerich," 22 Aug. 2019 As the slaughter in Kabul indicates, the militants have also refused to countenance a ceasefire or discuss a more lasting settlement. The Economist, "Trumped by the Taliban," 5 Sep. 2019 Waterstones’ previous owner, HMV, best known as a music retailer, would never countenance this quirky brand of enthusiasm. David Segal, New York Times, "Can Britain’s Top Bookseller Save Barnes & Noble?," 8 Aug. 2019 Most important in Pelosi’s case, such a thoroughgoing overhaul of received leadership wisdom would mean countenancing serious personal political risk during the later stages of a long and storied career. Elizabeth Spiers, The New Republic, "Beyond Pelosi," 24 July 2019 But here’s one theme you may never have countenanced: the science vacation. Washington Post, "Science Trip," 15 Aug. 2019 They are portrayed with transformative glee by a cast of deliciously assorted shapes, sizes and countenances: L Morgan Lee, James Jackson Jr., John-Michael Lyles, John-Andrew Morrison, Jason Veasey and Antwayn Hopper. Ben Brantley, New York Times, "Review: ‘A Strange Loop’ Is a Self-Portrait in a Hall of Mirrors," 17 June 2019 But his denial of Shakespeare’s authorship is founded on a conspiracy theory that no reputable Shakespeare scholar countenances. Elizabeth C. Gorski, The New Yorker, "The Mail," 19 Aug. 2019

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


13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 5


1568, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for countenance

Noun and Verb

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

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Time Traveler for countenance

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for countenance

Last Updated

12 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Countenance.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 6 December 2019.

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More Definitions for countenance


How to pronounce countenance (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of countenance

 (Entry 1 of 2)

formal + literary : the appearance of a person's face : a person's expression



English Language Learners Definition of countenance (Entry 2 of 2)

formal : to accept, support, or approve of (something)


coun·​te·​nance | \ ˈkau̇n-tᵊn-əns How to pronounce countenance (audio) \

Kids Definition of countenance

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: the human face or its expression a kind countenance


countenanced; countenancing

Kids Definition of countenance (Entry 2 of 2)

: to give approval or tolerance to I will not countenance such rude behavior.

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Comments on countenance

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


very cautious or careful

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