de·​fine | \ di-ˈfīn How to pronounce define (audio) \
defined; defining

Definition of define

transitive verb

1a : to determine or identify the essential qualities or meaning of whatever defines us as human
b : to discover and set forth the meaning of (something, such as a word) how the dictionary defines "grotesque"
c computing : to create with established rules or parameters define a window define a procedure
2a : to fix or mark the limits of : demarcate rigidly defined property lines
b : to make distinct, clear, or detailed especially in outline the issues aren't too well defined eyes defined by mascara
3 : characterize, distinguish you define yourself by the choices you makeDenison Univ. Bull. the moment that defined the campaign

intransitive verb

: to make a definition (see definition sense 1a)

Other Words from define

definement \ di-​ˈfīn-​mənt How to pronounce define (audio) \ noun
definer \ di-​ˈfī-​nər How to pronounce define (audio) \ noun

Examples of define in a Sentence

a term that is difficult to define The government study seeks to define urban poverty. Her book aims to define acceptable social behavior. She believes that success should be defined in terms of health and happiness. That fence defines the far edge of the property.
Recent Examples on the Web Even while battling debilitating back pain, Majerle was an essential plug-and-play component to the rosters that helped first define Heat Culture. Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel, 18 Sep. 2022 What could also define many of these races is what candidates have said about the last election. Phillip M. Bailey, USA TODAY, 18 Sep. 2022 Netflix debuts both Making a Murderer and Chef’s Table, which will define the streamer’s approach to documentaries. Katie Kilkenny, The Hollywood Reporter, 16 Sep. 2022 But, if the midterms are not about a second round of Trump versus Biden, and if threats to democracy define the stakes of these elections but not the debates, then what are the midterms about? Benjamin Wallace-wells, The New Yorker, 15 Sep. 2022 That means this technique to measure the expansion rate of the universe and define the Hubble constant could then shed light on a problem that has troubled researchers for decades without relying on troubling existing methodologies. Robert Lea, Popular Mechanics, 14 Sep. 2022 As essential to our morning routines as brushing our teeth, the extra-long prongs on the Pattern Beauty Hair Pick help volumize, lengthen, and define all types of kinks, coils, and curls. Allure Editors, Allure, 13 Sep. 2022 Once hair has completely cooled, release the braids and define waves with a styling cream or oil, said Ms. Marjan. Amber Kallor, WSJ, 8 Sep. 2022 Even if the three legs are not the same length, their ends will sit stably on the floor because three points (the ends of the legs of the chair) define a unique plane (the floor). Alan Lightman, The Atlantic, 8 Sep. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'define.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of define

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

History and Etymology for define

Middle English diffinen, defynen, borrowed from Anglo-French definer, diffiner, borrowed (with conjugation change) from Medieval Latin dēfīnīre, diffīnīre (dif- by association with dif-, assimilated form of dis- dis-), going back to Latin dēfīnīre "to mark the limits of, determine, give an exact description of," from dē- de- + fīnīre "to mark out the boundaries of, limit" — more at finish entry 1

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

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Last Updated

26 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Define.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

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More Definitions for define


de·​fine | \ di-ˈfīn How to pronounce define (audio) \
defined; defining

Kids Definition of define

1 : to explain the meaning of define a word
2 : to make clear especially in outline Your responsibilities are defined in the handout.

More from Merriam-Webster on define

Nglish: Translation of define for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of define for Arabic Speakers


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