noun (1)
\ ˈī-rəs How to pronounce iris (audio) \
plural irises also irides\ ˈī-​rə-​ˌdēz How to pronounce iris (audio) , ˈir-​ə-​ \

Definition of iris

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1a : the opaque contractile diaphragm perforated by the pupil and forming the colored portion of the eye — see eye illustration
b : iris diaphragm also : a similar device with a circular opening that can be varied in size
2 also plural iris : any of a large genus (Iris of the family Iridaceae, the iris family) of perennial herbaceous plants with linear usually basal leaves and large showy flowers
3 : rainbow


irised; irising; irises

Definition of iris (Entry 2 of 3)

transitive verb

: to make iridescent


noun (2)
\ ˈī-rəs How to pronounce Iris (audio) \

Definition of Iris (Entry 3 of 3)

: the Greek goddess of the rainbow and a messenger of the gods

Illustration of iris

Illustration of iris

Noun (1)

iris 2

In the meaning defined above

Examples of iris in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Most people are familiar with the bearded iris of mid- to late-spring, and may know the lanky bulbous Dutch iris of early spring. Adrian Higgins, Washington Post, 20 Sep. 2021 Unlike a password, biometric identifiers cannot be changed; your iris and your fingerprint are permanent. Jacob Silverman, The New Republic, 26 Aug. 2021 It was also covered in a thin layer of gold and engraved with a central circle to represent the iris, according to the ancient studies group. Miriam Fauzia, USA TODAY, 17 Aug. 2021 One of those kids is Joella Migliori, a 5-year-old born with three genetic abnormalities, including iris atrophy, when someone is born missing layers of their iris, resulting in changes in vision. Alaa Elassar, CNN, 8 Aug. 2021 But now the British artist is stripping his portraits down, releasing a new collection of works that each feature only a single iris from the eyes of beloved celebrities, powerful political leaders and controversial figures. CNN, 5 June 2021 Just a thought on the heels of the reveal this week of the Worldcoin project, which proposes that a good and rational way to distribute a new cryptocurrency is to sign people up by letting a basketball-sized sphere scan their iris. Brian Barrett, Wired, 3 July 2021 Whom the iris belongs to will remain a secret, except to the buyers of the images. CNN, 5 June 2021 Palm vein scanning provides a biometric ID that is more accurate than an iris and can’t be easily utilized to track people in the way some biometrics can be. Expert Panel®, Forbes, 25 May 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Platon has included an image of her iris the moment her child unexpectedly reached out to grab her during the shoot. CNN, 5 June 2021

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

Noun (1)

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3


1816, in the meaning defined above

Noun (2)

15th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for iris

Noun (1)

Middle English, "iris of the eye, the plant Iris germanica," borrowed from Latin īrid-, īris "rainbow, the plant Iris pallida or related species," borrowed from Greek īrid-, îris "rainbow, iridescent halo around the moon, a flame, etc., iris of the eye, the plant Iris pallida or related species," going back to *wīrid-, *wīris, of uncertain origin

Note: Traditionally, Greek îris "rainbow" (for which an original digamma [letter representing the sound w] is assured by an inscription from Corinth and the metrics of epic poetry) has been regarded as a derivative of Indo-European *u̯ei̯H- "plait, wrap," parallel to Germanic *wīr- (see wire entry 1). However, the variant éris recorded by the Greek lexicographer Hesychius, as well as the dubious character of *wīrid- as an Indo-European formation (< *u̯ih1-r-i-?) has drawn this etymology into question. Perhaps a substratal word.

Noun (2)

Latin, from Greek

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

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Last Updated

30 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Iris.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for iris



English Language Learners Definition of iris

: the colored part of your eye
: a plant with long pointed leaves and large blue or yellow flowers


\ ˈī-rəs How to pronounce iris (audio) \

Kids Definition of iris

1 : the colored part around the pupil of an eye
2 : a plant with long pointed leaves and large usually brightly colored flowers


\ ˈī-rəs How to pronounce iris (audio) \
plural irises or irides\ ˈī-​rə-​ˌdēz How to pronounce iris (audio) , ˈir-​ə-​ How to pronounce iris (audio) \

Medical Definition of iris

1 : the opaque muscular contractile diaphragm that is suspended in the aqueous humor in front of the lens of the eye, is perforated by the pupil and is continuous peripherally with the ciliary body, has a deeply pigmented posterior surface which excludes the entrance of light except through the pupil and a colored anterior surface which determines the color of the eyes

More from Merriam-Webster on iris

Nglish: Translation of iris for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of iris for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about iris


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