ek·​phra·​sis ˈek-frə-səs How to pronounce ekphrasis (audio)
variants or less commonly ecphrasis
plural ekphrases also ecphrases ˈek-frə-ˌsēz How to pronounce ekphrasis (audio)
: a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art

Did you know?

Although "ekphrasis" (also spelled "ecphrasis") is a relatively new entry in our dictionary, the practice of using words to comment on a piece of visual art is an ancient one. One of the earliest and most commonly cited forms of ekphrasis occurs in The Iliad, when Homer provides a long and discursive account of the elaborate scenes embossed on the shield of Achilles. It should be no surprise, then, that the term ekphrasis derives from Greek, where it literally means "description" and was formed by combining the prefix ex- ("out") with the verb "phrazein" ("to point out or explain"). "Ekphrasis" first appeared in English in the early 18th century.

Examples of ekphrasis in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Most of Schwartz’s protagonists are artists — poets, painters, novelists, actresses — and, fittingly then, many of the novel’s most elegant moments consist of ekphrasis, the representation of a work of art within another artwork. Jacob Brogan, Washington Post, 1 Mar. 2023 Hongo’s work embodies ekphrasis — his capacious mind roams across art forms. Washington Post, 18 Mar. 2022 On Thursday, May 17, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., a workshop on ekphrasis poetry will teach how artwork can inspire a poem. Carole Goldberg, courant.com, 2 May 2018 The performance was a kind of call and response, or ekphrasis, with lyrics and chords inspired by Lethem's prose. Agatha French, latimes.com, 5 Feb. 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'ekphrasis.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from New Latin ecphrasis, borrowed from Greek ékphrasis "description," from ekphrad-, stem of ekphrázein "to tell over, recount, describe" (from ek- ec- + phrázein "to point out, show, tell, explain," of uncertain origin) + -sis -sis

First Known Use

1715, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of ekphrasis was in 1715


Dictionary Entries Near ekphrasis

Cite this Entry

“Ekphrasis.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ekphrasis. Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!