noun, often attributive
back·​ground | \ ˈbak-ˌ(g)rau̇nd How to pronounce background (audio) \

Definition of background

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : the scenery or ground behind something a picture of her son with mountains in the background background scenery for the play
b art : the part of a painting representing what lies behind objects in the foreground dark shadows in the background of the painting
c : an image that displays on a computer screen underneath the various available icons and windows using a family photograph as her computer background
2 : an inconspicuous position shy people who try to stay in the background
3a : the conditions that form the setting within which something is experienced … set in a background of tropical luxuriance.— Tom Marvel
b(1) : the circumstances or events antecedent to a phenomenon or development the economic background of the American Civil War took place against a background of increasing tension
(2) : information essential to understanding of a problem or situation background information
c : the total of a person's experience, knowledge, and education comparing the candidates' backgrounds ran a background check to make sure she had no criminal record
4a : intrusive sound or radiation (see radiation sense 2b) that interferes with received or recorded electronic signals a recording with a lot of background noise
b physics : a more or less steady level of noise above which the effect (such as radioactivity) being measured by an apparatus (such as a Geiger counter) is detected especially : a somewhat steady level of radiation in the natural environment (as from cosmic rays)
5 : a level of computer processing at which the processor uses time not required for a primary task to work on an additional task — compare foreground entry 1
on background
: with the understanding that information offered for publication will not be attributed to a specific source an official speaking on background


backgrounded; backgrounding; backgrounds

Definition of background (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to provide with background … a richly backgrounded study of a silent movie star …— Hollis Alpert
2 : to give less attention or emphasis to (something) : to place (something) in the background Graham peoples her novel with genuine, endearing characters and keeps the grisly murders tactfully backgroundedPublishers Weekly Reviews

Synonyms for background

Synonyms: Noun

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Choose the Right Synonym for background


background, setting, environment, milieu, mise-en-scène mean the place, time, and circumstances in which something occurs. background often refers to the circumstances or events that precede a phenomenon or development. the shocking decision was part of the background of the riots setting suggests looking at real-life situations in literary or dramatic terms. a militant reformer who was born into an unlikely social setting environment applies to all the external factors that have a formative influence on one's physical, mental, or moral development. the kind of environment that produces juvenile delinquents milieu applies especially to the physical and social surroundings of a person or group of persons. an intellectual milieu conducive to artistic experimentation mise-en-scène strongly suggests the use of properties to achieve a particular atmosphere or theatrical effect. a gothic thriller with a carefully crafted mise-en-scène

Examples of background in a Sentence

Noun Objects in the foreground are drawn larger than those in the background. a photograph of a house with mountains in the background red letters printed on a white background An ethnic conflict that was simmering away in the background finally erupted into civil war. Let me provide you with some background on this problem.
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Ultimately, the point of political protest isn’t to blend seamlessly into the background, or to take place at a convenient hour. Emma Specter, Vogue, 9 May 2022 In the living room, architecture, albeit grand, recedes into the background to allow the furniture arrangement to shine. Krissa Rossbund, Better Homes & Gardens, 5 May 2022 But with stereo sound, shortcomings fade into the background a bit. Brad Moon, Forbes, 30 Apr. 2022 But any field that inculcates critical thinking would provide invaluable background for officers. Washington Post, 29 Apr. 2022 Speaking to this extreme, a potential accelerator of pain can be a hyper obsession, reducing all other elements into the background and calling to center agony, the hopelessness that the pain will never go away. Alex Wagner, SPIN, 27 Apr. 2022 Well, all of that sort of receded into the background. CBS News, 20 Apr. 2022 As the clandestine couple, Oliver and Alwyn strike an uncanny cadence, and the differences between them—age, economic, social, and otherwise—slip into the background. ELLE, 19 Apr. 2022 That might be a reason why the cause that grabbed such attention two years ago once again seems to have receded into the background. Gal Beckerman, The Atlantic, 19 Apr. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Bisschop was in charge of finalizing the film’s look, and focused on making foreground elements detailed and background art hazier and unfocused, reflecting the ways memories function. Wilson Chapman, Variety, 5 Apr. 2022 Spring smells the same every year, and that scent is sharpest when the season is new — before the smell grows familiar and is relegated to background noise. Genevieve Fullan, Longreads, 12 Apr. 2022 The law mandates background checks for employees; requires adequate food, clothing and medical care for students; and says parents must be allowed access to their children at any time without prior notice. Jim Salter, ajc, 2 Apr. 2022 That includes director Jennifer Moeller, as well as assistant director Debbie Spafford, lead timer Esther Lee and background layout lead HeeJin Kim. Michael Schneider, Variety, 11 Mar. 2022 Poynter has more details about the companies involved and background on some of the events that led to the deal. oregonlive, 22 Feb. 2022 Henyard agreed to background checks moving forward but refused to execute the retroactive portion of the plan, and that has added another chapter in the battle of the mayor versus a board majority. Jeff Vorva,, 23 Jan. 2022 At just over four minutes, 'Birthday' spotlights background vocals reminiscent of The Beatles. Melissa Ruggieri, USA TODAY, 15 Jan. 2022 According to to background check data submitted to the FBI, gun purchases rose steeply during 2020 and 2021, driven largely by first-time buyers, according to industry estimates. Zachariah Hughes, Anchorage Daily News, 17 Dec. 2021 See More

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

First Known Use of background


1672, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1768, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of background was in 1672

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Dictionary Entries Near background

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Last Updated

12 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Background.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for background


back·​ground | \ ˈbak-ˌgrau̇nd How to pronounce background (audio) \

Kids Definition of background

1 : the scenery or ground that is behind a main figure or object a red spot on a white background
2 : a position that attracts little attention He tried to stay in the background.
3 : the total of a person's experience, knowledge, and education

More from Merriam-Webster on background

Nglish: Translation of background for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of background for Arabic Speakers


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