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 Republican insiders worry the Trump campaign hasn’t moved decisively enough to define Biden for the electorate ahead of the fall race. W. James Antle Iii, Washington Examiner, "Trump's 2020 challenge: Biden is his first opponent voters actually like," 29 May 2020 Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times The protests in Hong Kong this past week have many of the hallmarks of the antigovernment demonstrations last year that came to define the territory’s biggest political crisis in decades. Amy Qin, New York Times, "Why Are People Protesting in Hong Kong?," 27 May 2020 Microwave atomic clocks, housed in metrology institutes worldwide, are used to define the international standard for the second. Andrew Ludlow, The Conversation, "Pairing lasers with microwaves makes mind-bogglingly accurate electronic clocks – a potential boon for GPS, cell phones and radar," 22 May 2020 Miles and miles away from the usual support and caretaking of our parents, this was our first chance to define Ramadan for ourselves. Ahmed Ali Akbar, Bon Appétit, "I Tried to Perfect My Mother’s Pullao and Learned to Love My Flaws Instead," 22 May 2020 But, five months after the virus emerged, national health authorities don’t agree on how to define those symptoms. Joanna Sugden, WSJ, "What Are the Symptoms of Covid-19? Some Countries Don’t Recognize Them All, Posing Risks to Reopening," 22 May 2020 Likewise, Project Cortex is a bit difficult to define. Mark Hachman, PCWorld, "Microsoft advances the future of Office: Project Cortex and Fluid Framework," 19 May 2020 In practice, however, each workplace exercises significant discretion to define what prolonged means and just how risky the exposure was. Ava Kofman, ProPublica, "Substitute Pharmacists Warn Their Co-Workers: We’ll Probably Bring the Virus to You," 18 May 2020 The Ohio Department of Job of Family Services is working to define who should lose unemployment benefits for not returning to work. Jessie Balmert,, "Coronavirus in Ohio: Self-employed, part-time workers can now apply for unemployment," 13 May 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

3 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Define.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Jun. 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

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with 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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