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)

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Other Words from define

definement \ di-​ˈfīn-​mənt How to pronounce definement (audio) \ noun
definer \ di-​ˈfī-​nər How to pronounce definer (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.
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Recent Examples on the Web Moore at twenty-three is already adept with the tools that would define her work: the sneaky sentence, the idiosyncratic detail, the pun or one-liner. Rumaan Alam, The New York Review of Books, "The Element of Surprise," 3 Aug. 2020 The collage technique itself paved the way toward cut-and-paste computer features and data sharing operations that define and empower the digital realm. John Zotos, Dallas News, "Lance Letscher’s collages compel us to ponder our place within the natural world," 9 July 2020 Rudolfo Anaya, a writer whose trailblazing explorations of the folkways of the Southwest helped define the Latino experience in the United States, died on Sunday at his home in Albuquerque. Simon Romero, New York Times, "Rudolfo Anaya, a Father of Chicano Literature, Dies at 82," 3 July 2020 In just its first few weeks, the pandemic—and even the wealthiest governments’ failure to respond to it—made all the fault lines, injustices, and inequalities that define our societies impossible to ignore. Quartz Staff, Quartz, "Ben Ehrenreich on the economic pain Covid-19 will leave behind," 30 June 2020 But their 49ers’ teammates and fans can’t forget what those two fellows did to help define the character of a Super Bowl team. Scott Ostler,, "Buster Posey and family take one for the team: Team Us," 12 July 2020 Cheyenne Woods has always had to define her place in the pro golf world. Editors, USA TODAY, "Here's the biggest news you missed this weekend," 12 July 2020 This may surprise some people who assume conservative abuelas would be turned off by Mercado, someone who refused to define his sexuality but did identify as non-binary prior to his November 2019 death (Mercado preferred masculine pronouns). Ariana Romero,, "Glam, Astrology, & Love: Inside Netflix’s Latinx Love Letter Mucho Mucho Amor," 11 July 2020 Trump has long sought vengeance against the Russia investigation that helped define his first two years in office. Jonathan Lemire, Anchorage Daily News, "Trump’s intervention in Roger Stone criminal case draws condemnation," 11 July 2020

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.

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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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Time Traveler for define

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for define

Last Updated

8 Aug 2020

Cite this Entry

“Define.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for define


How to pronounce define (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of define

: to explain the meaning of (a word, phrase, etc.)
: to show or describe (someone or something) clearly and completely
: to show the shape, outline, or edge of (something) very clearly


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.

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More from Merriam-Webster on define

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for define

Spanish Central: Translation of define

Nglish: Translation of define for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of define for Arabic Speakers

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