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sil·​hou·​ette ˌsi-lə-ˈwet How to pronounce silhouette (audio)
: a likeness cut from dark material and mounted on a light ground or one sketched in outline and solidly colored in
: the outline of a body viewed as circumscribing a mass
the silhouette of a bird


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silhouetted; silhouetting

transitive verb

: to represent by a silhouette
also : to project on a background like a silhouette
silhouettist noun

Did you know?

Before the age of the photograph, the silhouette, either cut from paper or painted, was the most affordable portrait that could be made. The art enjoyed a golden age in the second half of the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, when many people collected them. Although silhouettes were well-loved, the man for whom they were named was not: Étienne de Silhouette was France's finance minister under Louis XV and was notorious for both his frugality and his hobby of making cut-paper shadow portraits. The phrase à la Silhouette came to mean "on the cheap," and portraits like the ones he produced were (satirically) bestowed with his name as well.

Choose the Right Synonym for silhouette

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 silhouette in a Sentence

Noun the silhouettes of buildings against the sky The buildings appeared in silhouette against the sky. My piano teacher has a framed silhouette of Mozart on her wall. a portrait of my mother done in silhouette He admired the sports car's sleek silhouette. Verb in the photograph the majestic mountain is strikingly silhouetted against the setting sun See More
Recent Examples on the Web
These jeans come in a timeless straight-leg silhouette that stars like Katie Holmes and Jennifer Garner wear. Nicol Natale, Peoplemag, 28 Nov. 2023 For a more traditional silhouette, check out the Collection Tinsel Tweed Sheath Dress. Wendy Vazquez, Southern Living, 28 Nov. 2023 Tory Burch Lee Radziwill leather cat eye bag A sophisticated bag in a modern silhouette adds the perfect finishing touch to any wardrobe. Porter Simmons, Vogue, 27 Nov. 2023 This puffer jacket will keep you warm in colder temperatures, designed in a a unique cropped silhouette and in a stunning orange hue. Anna Tingley, Variety, 27 Nov. 2023 The relaxed silhouette is loose without being overly baggy, and the tapered elastic cuffs at the bottom offer a more tailored look. Hannah Freedman, Travel + Leisure, 25 Nov. 2023 This blazer atures a flattering fit that cinches subtly at the waist, creating a silhouette that’s both professional and stylish. Poppy Morgan, Rolling Stone, 21 Nov. 2023 She is seen in silhouette at the bottom of the frame, her eyes her only visible feature. Hilton Als, The New Yorker, 20 Nov. 2023 Some were skeletal silhouettes against the stars, windowless and blackened, others mere pancaked stacks of concrete. Steve Hendrix, Washington Post, 19 Nov. 2023
Strong yellow sun spilled through the room’s floor-to-ceiling windows; faint spiderwebs extended across them, silhouetted by the light. Joshua Rothman, The New Yorker, 13 Nov. 2023 But silhouetted behind the framework of great-power competition are subtler new developments. Michael Kimmage and Hanna Notte, Foreign Affairs, 12 Oct. 2023 Blue Hour and Red Moon by Anton Trexler Anton Trexler, a 17-year-old from Germany, wowed the judges with his striking shot of a Eurasian blackbird silhouetted against a bright full moon. Sarah Kuta, Smithsonian Magazine, 25 Sep. 2023 They are silhouetted in a forest, bonneted, wind-blown and sun-kissed. The Salt Lake Tribune, 10 Sep. 2023 There’s a scene where Petey and Bandit are silhouetted in front of a window and the first pass of that it’s not silhouetted because lighting is the last thing that happens. Abbey White, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 Aug. 2023 The band, silhouetted in purple light, stands out against two large barn doors at the back of the stage, lit in a wash of red. Catherine Tharin,, 21 July 2023 Barely-there silhouettes aside, the cast’s woes are camouflaged with sunglasses and cigarettes in hand, arguably the show’s biggest accessories aside from the statement jewelry and designer handbags. India Roby, Harper's BAZAAR, 23 June 2023 The Great Rift that splits the Milky Way in Cygnus is actually a sprawling collection of these clouds, which are silhouetted against the more distant stars. Phil Plait, Scientific American, 4 Aug. 2023 See More

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

Word History



French, from Étienne de Silhouette †1767 French controller general of finances; perhaps from his ephemeral tenure

First Known Use


1783, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1876, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of silhouette was in 1783


Dictionary Entries Near silhouette

Cite this Entry

“Silhouette.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
sil·​hou·​ette ˌsil-ə-ˈwet How to pronounce silhouette (audio)
: a picture (as a drawing or cutout) of the outline of an object filled in with a solid usually black color
: a profile portrait done in silhouette
: the outline of an object seen or as if seen against the light


2 of 2 verb
silhouetted; silhouetting
: to represent by a silhouette
also : to show against a light background
ducks silhouetted against the evening sky
silhouettist noun

More from Merriam-Webster on silhouette

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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