1 of 3

noun (1)

plural irises also irides ˈī-rə-ˌdēz How to pronounce iris (audio)
: the opaque contractile diaphragm perforated by the pupil and forming the colored portion of the eye see eye illustration
: iris diaphragm
also : a similar device with a circular opening that can be varied in size
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

Illustration of iris

Illustration of iris
  • iris 2


2 of 3


irised; irising; irises

transitive verb

: to make iridescent


3 of 3

noun (2)

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

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web
For the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Hoberman designed a giant aluminum arch that opened and shut like an iris over the medal stage. Stephen Ornes, Discover Magazine, 14 Nov. 2020 She was fingerprinted, photographed and had her iris scanned, and was made to sign printouts of her phone chats after surrendering her password. Dake Kang And Huizhong Wu, Anchorage Daily News, 3 Dec. 2022 The symbol of Joy’s nihilism is an everything bagel, shaped like a zero, or like the iris of an eye. Stephanie Burt, The New Yorker, 31 Oct. 2022 Ornamental grasses or Siberian iris that have dead centers should be divided with the dead centers discarded. Tim Johnson,, 9 Apr. 2022 An iris of a single, uniform color. Shoulder: Same as haft. oregonlive, 7 May 2021 The procedure involves a laser device creating a hole in the iris of the eye, allowing extra fluid to drain properly. Leah Groth,, 16 Dec. 2021 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
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 See More

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.

Word History


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

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near iris

Cite this Entry

“Iris.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 31 Jan. 2023.

Kids Definition


plural irises
or irides
: the colored part around the pupil of the eye that changes in size to control the amount of light entering the pupil
also plural iris : any of a large genus of plants with long pointed leaves and large usually brightly colored flowers

Medical Definition


plural irises or irides ˈī-rə-ˌdēz How to pronounce iris (audio) ˈir-ə- How to pronounce iris (audio)
: 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

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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

Commonly Confused Words Quiz

  • vector image of a face with thought expression
  • I went to the ______ store to buy a birthday card.
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?