out·​line | \ ˈau̇t-ˌlīn How to pronounce outline (audio) \

Definition of outline

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : a line that marks the outer limits of an object or figure : boundary the jagged outline of the mountains
b : shape the sharpening outline of her face— Willa Cather
2a : a style of drawing in which contours are marked without shading drew a dog in outline
b : a sketch in outline prepared several outlines of the suggested mural
3a : a condensed treatment of a particular subject an outline of world history
b : a summary of a written work : synopsis Students were required to give an outline for each assigned paper.
4 : a preliminary account of a project : plan gave the class an outline of the points he intended to cover
5 : a fishing line set out overnight


outlined; outlining; outlines

Definition of outline (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to draw the outline of
2 : to indicate the principal features or different parts of outlined their responsibilities

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for outline

Synonyms: Noun

contour, figure, silhouette

Synonyms: Verb

define, delineate, silhouette, sketch, trace

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Choose the Right Synonym for outline


outline, contour, profile, silhouette mean the line that bounds and gives form to something. outline applies to a line marking the outer limits or edges of a body or mass. traced the outline of his hand contour stresses the quality of an outline or a bounding surface as being smooth, jagged, curving, or sharply angled. a car with flowing contours profile suggests a varied and sharply defined outline against a lighter background. a portrait of her face in profile silhouette suggests a shape especially of a head or figure with all detail blacked out in shadow leaving only the outline clearly defined. photograph in silhouette against a bright sky

Examples of outline in a Sentence


The pictures were drawn in outline and then filled in with color. The leaves etched into the vase have a gold outline. Organize your essay by writing an outline in which you state your main idea followed by your supporting points. a brief outline of American history Her speech was written in outline on note cards.


The President outlined his agenda for the next term. The book outlines the major events of the country's history. All players must follow the rules outlined above.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

But the federal complaint against her outlines relatively simple ways Capital One and the FBI were able to establish her identity, including the name on her GitHub page. Los Angeles Times, "Tipster’s email led to arrest in massive Capital One breach," 30 July 2019 The others were murky due to difficulty in obtaining information about the killings ‘‘although their broad outlines were consistent with patterns of previous extrajudicial executions,’’ the group said. Jim Gomez, BostonGlobe.com, "Amnesty seeks international probe to end Philippine killings," 8 July 2019 The Biden plan is in its broad outlines more like that of former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who also set a 2050 goal and called for $1.5 trillion in federal spending over 10 years for his climate change plan. Evan Halper, latimes.com, "Biden proposes $1.7-trillion plan to combat climate change," 4 June 2019 But plenty of people have already bashed the deal based on its broad outlines. Jen Kirby, Vox, "Theresa May gets cabinet approval for her draft Brexit deal," 14 Nov. 2018 Your outline of course put it perfectly, this is about a political dynamic. Fox News, "Tucker: Brett Kavanaugh and the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party," 18 Sep. 2018 Rough outlines of Africa (center), Asia (upper right), and the Americas (left) are clearly visible. Daniel Clery, Science | AAAS, "Here’s what Earth might look like to aliens," 16 Aug. 2019 The outline of the ship was once recognizable, the jagged wooden stern standing high above the water. John Kelly, Washington Post, "Jagged remains of more than 100 ghostly ships rest forever in Mallows Bay," 7 Aug. 2019 The unfinished document outlines the need for a new administration building, a second taxiway, more hangars and other facilities. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Oceanside gets grant to resurface runway, taxiway at city airport," 22 July 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Elliott outlined a four-part plan for the company in a letter to its board Monday. Scott Deveau, Fortune, "‘There Will Be a Fight’: AT&T Stock Soars As Activist Investor Looks to Shake Things Up," 9 Sep. 2019 Beginning last December, the MIAA outlined a plan to familiarize coaches and officials with the new rules, offering educational meetings with presentations from out-of-state referees. Nate Weitzer, BostonGlobe.com, "This year, high school football is a new ballgame," 4 Sep. 2019 Kamala Harris Harris has outlined a $10 trillion plan to address climate change with the aim of having net-zero emissions by 2045 and 100% carbon-neutral electricity by 2030. Grace Segers, CBS News, "Where the 2020 candidates stand on climate change," 4 Sep. 2019 Sanders, who outlined his climate change plan during a visit to Chico last week, told party activists in San Francisco that the election wasn’t just about unseating Trump. Joe Garofoli, SFChronicle.com, "Democrats sounding less aspirational, more confrontational," 24 Aug. 2019 At the scene, police allegedly found two suicide notes by Nguyen outlining her plan to kill her children before taking her own life, ABC reports. Christine Pelisek, PEOPLE.com, "Calif. Mom Allegedly Kills 2 Daughters – Ages 14 and 4 Months — Before Dad Finds Her Unresponsive," 23 Aug. 2019 Private System PG&E has outlined its plan to exit the biggest utility bankruptcy in U.S. history, promising to largely protect the value of its shares. Bloomberg News, The Mercury News, "PG&E craters on risk of up to $18 billion in California wildfire lawsuits," 19 Aug. 2019 There are easy comparisons between ViacomCBS’s outlined plan and Disney’s. Julia Alexander, The Verge, "Star Trek is ViacomCBS’s best hope for streaming greatness," 14 Aug. 2019 Charles Murray outlined his own plan in his 2006 book In Our Hands. Matthew Continetti, National Review, "A UBI Would Undermine Work," 25 July 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'outline.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of outline


1662, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


circa 1790, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about outline

Statistics for outline

Last Updated

11 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for outline

The first known use of outline was in 1662

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for outline



English Language Learners Definition of outline

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a drawing or picture that shows only the shape of an object
: a style of drawing in which only the outer edges of an object are shown
: a line that is drawn around the edges of something



English Language Learners Definition of outline (Entry 2 of 2)

: to draw a line around the edges of (something)
: to list or describe only the most important parts of (an essay, speech, plan, etc.) : to give an outline of (something)


out·​line | \ ˈau̇t-ˌlīn How to pronounce outline (audio) \

Kids Definition of outline

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a line that traces or forms the outer limits of an object or figure and shows its shape
2 : a drawing or picture or style of drawing in which only the outer edges of an object or figure are shown outlines of animals
3 : an often numbered or lettered list of the important parts of something (as an essay)
4 : a short treatment of a subject an outline of world history


outlined; outlining

Kids Definition of outline (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : to draw or trace the outer edges of Outline the circle in gold.
2 : to list or describe the main features or parts of … Mother went on outlining her plans for the storeroom.— Robert Lawson, Rabbit Hill

Keep scrolling for more

More from Merriam-Webster on outline

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with outline

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for outline

Spanish Central: Translation of outline

Nglish: Translation of outline for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of outline for Arabic Speakers

Comments on outline

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


to make a temporary encampment

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Musical Words Quiz

  • gramophone
  • Which word describes a musical performance marked by the absence of instrumental accompaniment?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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