de·​fense | \ di-ˈfen(t)s How to pronounce defense (audio) ; as antonym of "offense" often ˈdē-ˌfen(t)s How to pronounce defense (audio) \

Definition of defense

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : the act or action of defending the defense of our country speak out in defense of justice quickly jumped to her friend's defense
b law : the denial, answer, or plea (see plea sense 2b) of one against whom a criminal or civil action is brought : a defendant 's denial, answer, or plea
2a : capability of resisting attack the body's defense against disease
b sports : ability to keep an opponent from scoring in a game or contest : defensive play or ability a player known for good defense
3a : means or method of defending or protecting oneself, one's team, or another the nation's air and ground defenses Big shells are an effective defense against these predators as well.— Gregory P. Dietl also : a defensive structure
b : an argument in support or justification offered no defense of his actions
c law : the collected facts and method adopted by a defendant to protect and defend against a plaintiff's action His lawyers used an insanity defense.
d chess : a sequence of moves available to the second player in the opening (see opening sense 3a)
4a law : a defending party or group (as in a court of law) The defense rests.
b sports : a defensive team He was the linchpin of one of the league's stoutest defenses— Sarah Kwak
5 government : the military and industrial aggregate that authorizes and supervises arms production appropriations for defense defense contract


defensed; defensing

Definition of defense (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

: to take specific defensive action against (an opposing team or player or an offensive play) : to attempt to keep (an opponent or play) from scoring in a game or contest The gangly Pressey was clearly Milwaukee's only real hope of defensing Bird …— Jack McCallum

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Other Words from defense


defenseless \ di-​ˈfen(t)s-​ləs How to pronounce defense (audio) \ adjective
defenselessly adverb
defenselessness noun

Examples of defense in a Sentence

Noun They put up a good defense, but the city ultimately fell to the invaders. They mounted a good defense. The city's defenses were not strong enough to keep out the invaders. We need to improve our defenses. the nation's air and ground defenses
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Dan Abrams, the defense is likely to start this week. ABC News, "'This Week' Transcript 4-11-21: Sec. Jennifer Granholm, Sen. Roger Wicker," 11 Apr. 2021 Loughery has reservations about the perimeter defense of Harden and Irving. New York Times, "The Nets Could Have Had It All With Dr. J," 11 Apr. 2021 Toronto’s attacking guards were relentless getting to the basket and breaking down the inconsistent defense. Chris Fedor, cleveland, "Cleveland Cavaliers feel ‘embarrassed, disappointed’ following ‘ridiculous’ performance against Toronto Raptors," 11 Apr. 2021 And when the defense did make mistakes, goalie Kevin Lankinen (23 saves) came up with key stops. Phil Thompson,, "3 takeaways from the Chicago Blackhawks’ comeback 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on the road," 11 Apr. 2021 Five different players took reps at cornerback with the first-team defense on Saturday: Darrell Luter, Devin Rockette, Dallas Gamble, Ryan Melton and Davyn Flenord. Creg Stephenson |, al, "Defense strikes back in South Alabama’s second spring scrimmage," 11 Apr. 2021 The defense has also argued that Chauvin acted within his police training and employed an appropriate use of force. Christina Carrega, CNN, "'The lessons of this moment.' The testimony by police brass at Derek Chauvin's trial is unprecedented," 10 Apr. 2021 Kendrick Nunn and Gabe Vincent don’t attract the defense like Victor Oladipo does, but Victor isn’t in Heat shape yet. Ira Winderman,, "ASK IRA: Is Victor Oladipo putting the Heat at a trade deficit?," 10 Apr. 2021 That being said, Mitchell tricking opponents works best when playing, literally, the worst defense in league history. Andy Larsen, The Salt Lake Tribune, "The Triple Team: Donovan Mitchell scores 42 to beat Sacramento — he’s now scored 40 PPG in his last three games," 10 Apr. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Junior Joe Brunner was named as an offensive and defensive lineman and senior Grover Bortolotti received distinction as a running back and defense back. Mark Stewart, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Undefeated Muskego, Franklin and Whitefish Bay are well represented on Wisconsin Football Coaches Association all-region teams," 30 Nov. 2020 There’s significant competition lower on the depth chart as the freshmen will push for time and Kris Hutson, Josh Delgado, Lance Wilhoite and Bryan Addison, who moved to defense late last season, are all aiming for more reps. oregonlive, "Johnny Johnson III, Jaylon Redd return to Oregon Ducks receiving corps getting an infusion of freshmen," 30 Mar. 2021 No wonder China is developing them to counter U.S. superiority in other areas, and he Pentagon is devoting so much effort to defense against such missiles, . David Hambling, Forbes, "China Developing Hypersonic Swarms To Overwhelm Missile Defenses," 18 Mar. 2021 Remember that ghastly defense that kept the Wizards out of the playoffs last season and battled Cleveland for the last spot? Chris Fedor, cleveland, "Playoffs? Cleveland Cavaliers come out of the break thinking big, but how likely is it after back-to-back blowout losses?," 15 Mar. 2021 Rivers isn’t the only quarterback picking apart this Raiders defense down the stretch, however: Las Vegas has given up 150 points in its past four games, with Guenther’s unit yielding an average of 399 yards per game in that stretch. Greg Beacham,, "Defenseless Raiders routed by Colts; coordinator Paul Guenther fired," 13 Dec. 2020 The Broncos provided the middling Raiders defense its best fantasy performance of the season and helped the Saints DST continue a double-digit streak. Phil Thompson,, "Fantasy football lineups for Week 13: Start Kirk Cousins and sit Tyler Boyd," 3 Dec. 2020 Lamb’s selection means the club won’t take another receiver over the next two days and tilts the balance to defense the rest of the way. David Moore, Dallas News, "When presented with a decision they didn’t expect, the Cowboys chose offense and CeeDee Lamb," 23 Apr. 2020 The Rams would get the ball back but against the vaunted Packer defense their chances were slim. Los Angeles Times, "The Sports Report: Can Jared Goff lead the Rams to a Super Bowl title?," 15 Aug. 2019

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


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1932, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for defense


Middle English defense, defence, borrowed from Anglo-French defens, defense, defence, borrowed from Medieval Latin dēfensa, dēfensum (Late Latin dēfensa "vengeance"), nominal derivatives from feminine and neuter of Latin dēfensus, past participle of dēfendere "to ward off, defend"


derivative of defense entry 1

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Time Traveler for defense

Time Traveler

The first known use of defense was in the 14th century

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Statistics for defense

Last Updated

14 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Defense.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for defense



English Language Learners Definition of defense

: the act of defending someone or something from attack
: something that is used to protect yourself, your country, etc.
: the act of speaking or writing in support of someone or something that is being attacked or criticized


de·​fense | \ di-ˈfens How to pronounce defense (audio) \

Kids Definition of defense

1 : the act of protecting or defending They were defeated in spite of a brave defense.
2 : something that defends or protects … sneaking out to spy on him was not much of a defense against his treachery.— Lemony Snicket, The Austere Academy
3 : the players on a team who try to stop the other team from scoring

Other Words from defense

defenseless \ -​ləs \ adjective


variants: or chiefly British defence \ di-​ˈfen(t)s How to pronounce defense (audio) \

Medical Definition of defense

: a means or method of protecting the physical or functional integrity of body or mind ability to concentrate urine may be interpreted as a renal defense of body volume fluid— Jack Metcoff

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de·​fense | \ di-ˈfens, ˈdē-ˌfens How to pronounce defense (audio) \

Legal Definition of defense

1 : the act or action of defending — see also self-defense
2a : the theory or ground that forms the basis for a defendant's opposition to an allegation in a complaint or to a charge in a charging instrument (as an indictment) also : the evidence and arguments presented supporting the defendant's opposition — see also accord, alibi, assumption of risk, coercion, consent, contributory negligence at negligence, denial, diminished capacity, duress, entrapment, estoppel, fraud, infancy, insanity, intoxication, laches, mistake, necessity, res judicata, statute of limitations
absolute defense
: complete defense in this entry
affirmative defense
: a defense that does not deny the truth of the allegations against the defendant but gives some other reason (as insanity, assumption of risk, or expiration of the statute of limitations) why the defendant cannot be held liable

Note: The defendant bears the burden of proof as to affirmative defenses.

choice of evils defense
: a defense to a criminal charge based on the assertion that the criminal act was committed to avoid the commission of an even greater evil

called also lesser evils defense

Note: In jurisdictions that recognize the choice of evils defense, it encompasses both of the older defenses of duress and necessity.

complete defense
: a defense that shields the defendant from any liability and bars any recovery by the plaintiff — compare partial defense in this entry
lesser evils defense
: choice of evils defense in this entry
meritorious defense
: a defense that is based on evidence sufficient to warrant setting aside a default judgment against the defendant in civil litigation
partial defense
: a defense by which the defendant reduces the amount of damages of which he or she is liable — compare complete defense in this entry
b : a basis upon which an obligor of a negotiable instrument may avoid liability under the instrument
personal defense
: a defense of an obligor under a negotiable instrument that can be asserted against anyone but a holder in due course
real defense
: a defense of an obligor of a negotiable instrument that may be asserted even against a holder in due course

Note: Section 3-305(a)(1) of the Uniform Commercial Code sets out the real defenses as infancy, duress, lack of legal capacity, illegality of the transaction, fraud in the factum, and discharge of the obligor by a bankruptcy court. By exclusion, all other defenses are personal defenses.

3 : the defending side in a legal proceeding the defense rests — compare prosecution

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