ivo·​ry | \ ˈīv-rē How to pronounce ivory (audio) , ˈī-və-rē\
plural ivories

Definition of ivory

1a : the hard creamy-white modified dentine that composes the tusks of a tusked mammal (such as an elephant, walrus, or narwhal)
b : a tusk that yields ivory
2 : a variable color averaging a pale yellow
3 slang : tooth
4 : something (such as a piano key) made of ivory or of a similar substance

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Other Words from ivory

ivory adjective

The History of Ivory

A hard white substance that is a variety of dentin, ivory makes up the tusks of such animals as elephants, walruses, and preserved mammoths. It is prized for its beauty, durability, and suitability for carving. In ancient times it was treasured as highly as gold and precious stones. Most ivory used commercially once came from Africa, but this trade declined in the 20th century as the populations of African elephants shrank, and increasing worldwide concern about endangered elephant populations led to bans on the export and import of ivory. The once-thriving markets of Europe have shifted to southeast Asia, where skilled artisans, often trading illegally, carve ivory into figurines and other objects.

Examples of ivory in a Sentence

a carved piece of ivory

Recent Examples on the Web

Most rooms are tight, too, some as small as 135-square-feet, but windows let in light and the space is bright (think: ivory plaster, white woodwork, bright wallpaper accent walls, black-and-white touches with here-and-there pops of color). Pamela Wright, BostonGlobe.com, "Block Island Beach House is updated, but still honors the past," 29 Aug. 2019 Selling ivory never benefited local communities in the past. David Mckenzie, CNN, "Some African countries want to tackle a wildlife taboo. Whether to start selling ivory again," 24 Aug. 2019 The ivory evidence ultimately provided the political will for the extradition, Miles said. San Diego Union-Tribune, "How a San Diego AI company helped bring down an African crime boss," 24 Aug. 2019 My higher-than-high-rise Slvrlakes call for a slinky ribbed knit, while my prim ivory Brock Collection jeans need something a bit more billowy. Emily Farra, Vogue, "As Fashion Loosens Up, Nothing is More Essential Than an Untucked Shirt," 14 Aug. 2019 The happy couple married in a civil ceremony on Friday, July 26, at which the bride wore an ivory jumpsuit by Rosa Clará. Amy Mackelden, Harper's BAZAAR, "Grace Kelly's Grandson Louis Ducruet Gets Married in a Two-Day Monaco Wedding," 28 July 2019 The grand finale was bridezilla in a beautiful ivory bustier gown and veil with a spider on her bust and skeletal gloves and hosiery. Ingrid Schmidt, The Hollywood Reporter, "Inside the Horror Film-Themed Moschino Fashion Show at Universal Studios," 8 June 2019 The twist this summer is that the looks are mainly covered—long sleeves, trousers, midi lengths—and in pale neutrals: ivory, cream. Vogue, "Last Week, Stars Found Summer’s Key Look," 15 July 2019 Tickling the outdoor ivories Flower Piano runs through July 22 in the San Francisco Botanical Garden, 1199 Ninth Ave. in Golden Gate Park. Steve Rubenstein, SFChronicle.com, "Friday morning in San Francisco and the sound of pianos blossom," 12 July 2019

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

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for ivory

Middle English ivorie, from Anglo-French ivoire, ivurie, from Latin eboreus of ivory, from ebor-, ebur ivory, from Egyptian ʾ̹b, ʾ̹bw elephant, ivory

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Statistics for ivory

Last Updated

2 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for ivory

The first known use of ivory was in the 13th century

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More Definitions for ivory



English Language Learners Definition of ivory

: a hard white substance that forms the tusks of elephants and other animals
: a slightly yellowish white color
informal : a piano key


ivo·​ry | \ ˈī-və-rē How to pronounce ivory (audio) , ˈīv-rē\
plural ivories

Kids Definition of ivory

1 : a hard creamy-white material that forms the tusks of mammals (as elephants)
2 : a creamy white color


ivo·​ry | \ ˈīv-(ə-)rē How to pronounce ivory (audio) \
plural ivories

Medical Definition of ivory

: the hard creamy-white modified dentin that composes the tusks of a tusked mammal and especially the elephant

Other Words from ivory

ivory adjective

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More from Merriam-Webster on ivory

Spanish Central: Translation of ivory

Nglish: Translation of ivory for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ivory for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about ivory

Comments on ivory

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miscellaneous remnants or debris

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