limned; limning
ˈlim-niŋ How to pronounce limn (audio)

transitive verb

: to draw or paint on a surface
The artist limned a portrait.
: to outline in clear sharp detail : delineate
he was limned by a streetlightStephen Coonts
: describe
the novel limns the frontier life of the settlers

Did you know?

Allow us to shed some light on the history of limn, a word with lustrous origins. Limn traces to the Anglo-French verb aluminer and ultimately to the Latin illuminare, which means "to illuminate." Its use as an English verb dates from the days of Middle English; at first, limn referred to the action of illuminating (that is, decorating) medieval manuscripts with gold, silver, or brilliant colors. William Shakespeare extended the term to painting in his poem Venus and Adonis: "Look when a painter would surpass the life / In limning out a well-proportioned steed...."

Examples of limn in a Sentence

he limned the scene in the courtroom so perfectly I could practically see it
Recent Examples on the Web Haring limned his oval head, the topknot above a receding hairline, a pair of prominent ears and eyes staring out from behind black-rimmed eyeglasses. Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times, 6 June 2023 The soft sunlight illuminates sturdy wood pews, limning swaying worshipers in white gold. Aj Willingham, CNN, 15 Apr. 2023 Last Summer in the City seems to limn his own life: Like Calligarich, the novel’s protagonist, Leo Gazarra, leaves Milan for Rome and a writing job, and when that job disappears, spends his summer days at the beach and his nights drifting from party to party, woman to woman. Vogue, 29 May 2021 The adjacent desperations of the Emory family are meant to limn the material and psychological effects of living under the threat of anti-Blackness in America. Angelica Jade Bastién, Vulture, 14 Apr. 2021 Nonetheless, Democrats want to be perceived as favoring virtually universal suffrage, and to limn their conservative and Republican opposition as favoring vote suppression. Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review, 3 Nov. 2020 Her poems, which have appeared in The New Yorker for over thirty years, limn the legacies of history, in her home country and beyond, and reckon especially with the repression of women’s accomplishments, realities, and inner lives. Hannah Aizenman, The New Yorker, 29 Apr. 2020 Also stuffed not inelegantly between the microcosmic doings are several larger incidents that limn the bloody and brutal history of the two centuries, including South American totalitarianism, European pogroms and the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Washington Post, 2 Feb. 2020 Every eloquent expanse of empty wall is limned by a trill of thin stripes defining doorjambs, drawn curtains and window frames. Washington Post, 28 Nov. 2019

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

Word History


Middle English limnen to illuminate (a manuscript), probably back-formation from lymnour illuminator, alteration of lumenur, from Anglo-French aluminer, enluminer to illuminate, ultimately from Latin illuminare

First Known Use

1592, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of limn was in 1592


Dictionary Entries Near limn

Cite this Entry

“Limn.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.

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