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

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 One example, at once pictorial, abstract and organic from early 18th-century India, is about 14 inches tall and carved out of ivory. Edward Rothstein, WSJ, 28 Dec. 2021 His lab developed a method for extracting DNA from ivory and analyzing it to determine where the elephants came from. David Williams, CNN, 10 Nov. 2021 In shades of ivory, white, nude, or blush, designs featuring guipure, chantilly, eyelet, or floral lace will pair beautifully with bridal attire. Laura Lajiness, Vogue, 29 Sep. 2021 Consider light neutrals including ivory, taupe, and blush tones like peach, tan, or pink. Jessica Bennett, Better Homes & Gardens, 8 Sep. 2021 Many of the world’s animals are on the verge of extinction because of poaching, with around 100 elephants killed every day for ivory, meat, and body parts as well as Rhinos and Tigers, which are also under severe threat. Mark Minevich, Forbes, 24 May 2021 On the Chain Don’t fret—this ivory, Italian-leather, day-to-night bag won’t hold you down. Katharine K. Zarrella, WSJ, 15 May 2021 The bridesmaids wore delicate headbands woven with ivory roses and orchids. Alexandra Macon, Vogue, 28 Oct. 2021 Stewart, in character, appearing to be weeping into the skirt of an enormous ivory gown — echoes of Diana's famously ornate wedding gown. Hanna Flanagan, PEOPLE.com, 3 Sep. 2021

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.

See More

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

Learn More About ivory

Time Traveler for ivory

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Dictionary Entries Near ivory




See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for ivory

Last Updated

9 Jan 2022

Cite this Entry

“Ivory.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ivory. Accessed 18 Jan. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

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
: 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

More from Merriam-Webster on ivory

Nglish: Translation of ivory for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of ivory for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about ivory


Test Your Vocabulary

Farm Idioms Quiz

  • cow coming home
  • What does 'poke' refer to in the expression 'pig in a poke'?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

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