il·​lu·​mi·​nate | \ i-ˈlü-mə-ˌnāt \
illuminated; illuminating

Definition of illuminate

 (Entry 1 of 3)

transitive verb

1a(1) : to supply or brighten with light
(2) : to make luminous or shining
b : to enlighten spiritually or intellectually
c : to subject to radiation
d archaic : to set alight
2a : to make clear : elucidate
b : to bring to the fore : highlight a crisis can illuminate how interdependent we all are
3 : to make illustrious or resplendent
4 : to decorate (something, such as a manuscript) with gold or silver or brilliant colors or with often elaborate designs or miniature pictures


il·​lu·​mi·​nate | \ i-ˈlü-mə-nət \

Definition of illuminate (Entry 2 of 3)

1 archaic : brightened with light
2 archaic : intellectually or spiritually enlightened


il·​lu·​mi·​nate | \ i-ˈlü-mə-nət \

Definition of illuminate (Entry 3 of 3)

: one having or claiming unusual enlightenment

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Other Words from illuminate


illuminator \ i-​ˈlü-​mə-​ˌnā-​tər \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for illuminate

Synonyms: Verb

bathe, beacon, emblaze, illume, illumine, irradiate, light, lighten

Antonyms: Verb

blacken, darken, obfuscate

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Examples of illuminate in a Sentence


the part of the moon illuminated by the sun A university study has illuminated the problem.

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Her personal essays on toxic relationships, self-love, gender identity, trans sexuality, and feminism are illuminating and palpable. Jasmin Hernandez, Harper's BAZAAR, "Nomi Ruiz on Making Art That Means Something," 17 Jan. 2019 StormBreaker can attack three ways: normal, laser illuminated and coordinate attack. Allison Barrie, Fox News, "StormBreaker: Powerful bomb penetrates bad weather, spells bad news for bad guys," 27 July 2018 Scroll to find out which illuminating and moisturizing foundation Instagram's queen of glowy skin, Nam Vo, swears by, as well as the BB cream Allure's digital editor (and skin-care aficionado) Sarah Kinonen always keeps in her makeup bag. Sophie Wirt, Allure, "The Best Foundations for Dry Skin, According to Makeup Artists," 18 July 2018 Consider light-emitting diodes, the tiny part that makes LED light bulbs illuminate and are used in many industrial settings. New York Times, "What a Trade War With China Looks Like on the Front Lines," 23 June 2018 This is an important takeaway and one that illuminates that not only does outlandishly uncivil actions (like vomiting) rightly irritate drivers to the point of giving passengers a low-star rating, so do the seemingly less obnoxious behaviors. Nicole Spector /, NBC News, "Is your Uber rating low? One of these bad behaviors may be to blame," 23 May 2018 She is mostly left to pout in cool clubs, wear futuristic cozy knits, detail her past in a way that illuminates Montag's own history, and explain actual reality to her new love interest, an emotional and mental baby of human., "Fahrenheit 451," 17 May 2018 Attendees young and old illuminated the ballroom space with their cell phone lights and belted out Rodgers' classics with vigor, proving that the disco legend that got his start in the '70s can still get the party started to this day. Nerisha Penrose, Billboard, "Nile Rodgers, LL Cool J, & Roger Daltrey Celebrate We Are Family Foundation With Nostalgia-Filled Concert," 28 Apr. 2018 And as these messengers have lingered in the spotlight, their imperfections have increasingly been illuminated. Aaron Blake, Washington Post, "James Comey, Stormy Daniels and the flawed vessels commandeering the Trump resistance," 19 Apr. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

The problem is that, while the careful study of history can provide policymakers with powerful insights, incongruous comparisons can just as easily obscure as illuminate contemporary challenges. Richard Fontaine, The Atlantic, "The Uses and Misuses of Historical Analogy for North Korea," 3 Oct. 2017 Throughout the film, interviews reveal the pervasive abuses committed against infants, children and teens as well as illuminate groups and people who are working to stop it. Kimber Myers,, "Filmmaker-monk goes after sex trade in documentary 'Stopping Traffic'," 28 Sep. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'illuminate.' 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 illuminate


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1b


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1600, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for illuminate


Middle English, from Latin illuminatus, past participle of illuminare, from in- + luminare to light up, from lumin-, lumen light — more at luminary

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Last Updated

14 Feb 2019

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Time Traveler for illuminate

The first known use of illuminate was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for illuminate



English Language Learners Definition of illuminate

: to supply (something) with light : to shine light on (something)
: to make (something) clear and easier to understand


il·​lu·​mi·​nate | \ i-ˈlü-mə-ˌnāt \
illuminated; illuminating

Kids Definition of illuminate

1 : to supply with light : light up He clutched Rose as a dazzling blast illuminated the lobby…— Brian Selznick, Wonderstruck
2 : to make clear : explain His speech illuminated the subject.

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Comments on illuminate

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


to express emotion in a dramatic way

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