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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

Example Sentences

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
Chloé and Teva have teamed up for a granola-chic sandal collection that puts a luxe spin on the outdoor footwear brand’s classic sporty Velcro silhouette. Danielle Directo-meston, The Hollywood Reporter, 16 May 2023 This classic Wellington boot silhouette, also called Wellies, have a mid-calf shaft height that provides maximum coverage with an opening large enough to tuck in your pants to keep dry. Danny Perez, Popular Mechanics, 9 May 2023 The relaxed-fitting overalls also have stylish wide-leg bottoms to elevate their seemingly simple silhouette. Emily Belfiore, Travel + Leisure, 7 May 2023 McCartney is known for her power suits—those which balance structured and fitted components to create silhouettes that are equal-parts flattering and bold. Sabrina Park, Harper's BAZAAR, 2 May 2023 This pullover silhouette, crafted from light compression fabric, gently smooths and is perfect under long-sleeve tops and dresses. Laura Lajiness Kaupke,, 28 Apr. 2023 The Kyoto sandal has an open-toed silhouette and a comfy cork footbed, like most Birkenstock shoes. Claire Harmeyer, Peoplemag, 26 Apr. 2023 Dani Dazey Collab Is the Perfect Maximalist ’70s Mash-Up Natural Tones and Eccentric Shapes Along with the earthy colors that defined the decade came bold fabrics, silhouettes, and accents. Bryce Jones, Better Homes & Gardens, 20 Apr. 2023 The styling department did a nice job on the hatchback, which manages to offer enough of a sloping tail to interest the fastback crowd and, at the same time, an undeniable notch to avoid turning off those who think anything but a conventional silhouette is funny-looking. Patrick Bedard, Car and Driver, 16 Apr. 2023
Elsewhere, British designer Tom Dixon rendered his popular Melt and Bell silhouettes in miniature, take-it-with-you forms. ELLE Decor, 28 Apr. 2023 The dark matter was observed indirectly, using light from the cosmic microwave background as a backlight to silhouette the matter. David Meyer, Fortune, 13 Apr. 2023 An instrumental synth track is a sinuous thrum in the background, while lens flares and swirling lights silhouette the dancers unbothered by Wick and Killa’s antics. Vulture, 25 Mar. 2023 He is silhouetted in black against the blue hallway. Joshua St. Clair, Men's Health, 24 Mar. 2023 The example on display shows a group of soldiers from behind, silhouetted against the sky. Mark Feeney,, 28 Feb. 2023 In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope captured an iconic image of the Pillars of Creation showing the clouds of gas silhouetted in blues, greens and yellows. Dean Regas, The Enquirer, 25 Feb. 2023 Riley went after similar effects in rendering images of a young girl absorbed in a book, her head and body an assembly of blocky forms in gradations of gray, from pure white to deepest black, or of trees rising as hulking forms silhouetted along a riverbank, almost like reclining bodies. Los Angeles Times, 24 Feb. 2023 These lures silhouette well and attract bass compared to flashier offerings. Max Inchausti, Field & Stream, 23 Jan. 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 8 Jun. 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

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