de·fine | \di-ˈfīn \
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 \-ˈfīn-mənt \ noun
definer \-ˈfī-nər \ noun

Synonyms for define


lay down, prescribe, specify

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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

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Jeffrey Rosen, WSJ, "What We Learn from Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings," 13 July 2018 But what good does that do when you’ve been given license to experience your most embittered suspicions as cosmic wisdom, and liberty to define your own truth from a drop-down menu of superstition and conspiracy? Laurie Penny, Longreads, "Peterson’s Complaint," 12 July 2018 Ever since the passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s, the court has struggle to define the extent of the federal government's jurisdiction under the law. Dino Grandoni, Washington Post, "The Energy 202: How Brett Kavanaugh could rein in environmental rules on the Supreme Court," 11 July 2018 Crews have painted a stripe down the middle of the collector-distributor to define those lanes. Michelle Baruchman, The Seattle Times, "Revive I-5: Why you see traffic barrels blocking a lane even when there’s no active construction," 9 July 2018 Pruitt has long allowed particular strains of evangelical theology to define his approach to his office. Tara Isabella Burton, Vox, "Scott Pruitt’s parting words to Trump: you are president “because of God’s providence”," 6 July 2018 Every coach must balance the emphasis placed on sportsmanship, fun, improvement, winning and other objectives that can be used to define success. Rob Manker, Naperville Sun, "Manker: Lessons learned on ballfield sometimes bring winning and losing into perspective," 5 July 2018 Oakland has always had artists attempting to define the immense beauty and ridiculousness around them. Boots Riley, HWD, "Sorry to Bother You Director Boots Riley Takes a Ride Through Oakland’s Changing Landscape," 2 July 2018 The fight right now is how is this candidate going to be defined in terms of in Trump's mind. NBC News, "Meet the Press - July 1, 2018," 1 July 2018

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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Statistics for define

Last Updated

24 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for define

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

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More Definitions for define



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 \
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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Comments on define

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


a state of commotion or excitement

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