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Define vs. Definition — What's the Difference?

By Maham Liaqat & Fiza Rafique — Updated on March 4, 2024
"Define" is a verb meaning to explain the meaning of a word or phrase, while "definition" is a noun referring to the statement of the meaning itself.
Define vs. Definition — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Define and Definition


Key Differences

Define is an action verb that involves the process of explaining or clarifying the meaning of words, phrases, or concepts. This action is fundamental in communication, education, and understanding, as it helps to ensure that all parties have a common understanding of the terms being used. On the other hand, a definition is a noun that refers to the statement or explanation of the meaning of a word or phrase. It is the result or product of the act of defining. Definitions are crucial for language development, allowing individuals to grasp the essence of words and concepts.
When someone seeks to define a term, they engage in an active process of research, analysis, and synthesis to articulate what a particular word or phrase signifies. This process can involve comparing and contrasting, giving examples, and using simpler language to make the meaning clear. In contrast, a definition is a specific and often concise description that captures the core attributes or meaning of a term. Definitions can be found in dictionaries, glossaries, and educational materials, serving as reference points for understanding and communication.
The act of defining is dynamic and can vary depending on context, audience, and purpose. For instance, technical terms may be defined differently in academic texts than in everyday language. Conversely, a definition is a static representation of a word's meaning at a given time, though it can evolve as language and usage change. Definitions aim to provide a stable reference that people can agree upon and use as a basis for further discussion or learning.
In academic and professional settings, the ability to define concepts accurately is essential for clear communication and understanding. This skill involves not just knowing the definition but being able to convey it effectively to others. Meanwhile, definitions themselves are foundational elements in building knowledge, serving as the building blocks for more complex ideas and theories.
Both defining and definitions play crucial roles in language and knowledge acquisition. While defining is the process of elucidating the meaning of terms, definitions are the articulated outcomes of those efforts. Together, they facilitate clarity, precision, and advancement in various fields of study and aspects of daily life.

Comparison Chart

Part of Speech



The process of explaining a word's meaning.
The statement of a word's meaning.


Engages in research and explanation.
Provides a specific, often concise, description.

Role in Language

Active process of clarification.
Static representation of meaning.


Can vary based on audience and purpose.
Generally stable but can evolve.


Essential for effective communication.
Fundamental for knowledge acquisition.

Examples in Use

Defining complex terms requires expertise.
A dictionary provides definitions for words.


Dynamic, changes with context and understanding.
Can change over time as language evolves.


Necessary for teaching and learning.
Serves as a reference for understanding.


Involves actively explaining or elucidating.
The result or product of defining.

Compare with Definitions


A process of clarification and explanation.
Define the term 'biodiversity' in your own words.


A statement explaining the meaning of a word.
The dictionary provided a concise definition of ethics.


To explain the meaning of a word or phrase.
Teachers define new vocabulary for students.


Found in dictionaries, glossaries, etc.
Look up the definition of 'quantum physics.'


Involves making the essence of a concept clear.
The lecture will define key terms in the study.


A foundational element of language learning.
Understanding definitions is key to vocabulary development.


To specify distinctly
Define the weapons to be used in limited warfare.


Can be specific and direct.
His definition of happiness is quite unique.


Requires understanding and context.
Legal documents often define terms used within.


Reflects the consensus on a term's meaning.
The medical definition of 'wellness' has evolved.


To set boundaries or limits.
The contract defines the scope of the work.


A definition is a statement of the meaning of a term (a word, phrase, or other set of symbols). Definitions can be classified into two large categories, intensional definitions (which try to give the sense of a term) and extensional definitions (which try to list the objects that a term describes).


State or describe exactly the nature, scope, or meaning of
The contract will seek to define the client's obligations


A statement of the exact meaning of a word, especially in a dictionary
A dictionary definition of the verb


Mark out the boundary or limits of
The river defines the park's boundary


The degree of distinctness in outline of an object, image, or sound
The clarity and definition of pictures can be aided by using computer graphics


To state the precise meaning of (a word or sense of a word, for example).


A statement of the meaning of a word, phrase, or term, as in a dictionary entry.


To make clear the outline or form of; delineate
Gentle hills that were defined against the sky.


A statement or description of the fundamental character or scope of something
"[The panel] calls for a clearer definition of the status of people captured in American military operations" (Economist).


To state the meaning of a word, phrase, sign, or symbol.
The textbook defined speed as velocity divided by time.


The act or process of stating a precise meaning or significance; formulation of a meaning
The definition of terms is essential to any successful scholarly study.


To determine or clearly exhibit the boundaries of; to mark the limits of; as, to define the extent of a kingdom or country.


The state of being clearly outlined
"With the drizzle, the trees in the little clearing had lost definition" (Anthony Hyde).


Determine the essential quality of


A concise explanation of the meaning of a word or phrase or symbol


Delineate the form or outline of;
The tree was clearly defined by the light
The camera could define the smallest object


Clarity of outline;
Exercise had give his muscles superior definition

Common Curiosities

Can definitions evolve over time?

Yes, as language and usage change, the meanings of words can evolve, leading to updated definitions.

How does one find the definition of a word?

Through dictionaries, glossaries, educational materials, or authoritative sources in specific fields.

Why is the ability to define important?

It's essential for clear communication, teaching, learning, and ensuring mutual understanding in various contexts.

How is a definition used in language?

As a statement that gives the essential meaning of a word or phrase, serving as a reference for understanding.

Are definitions the same across all contexts?

Definitions can vary depending on the context and audience, though they aim to provide a stable reference.

What is the process of defining a term?

It involves explaining or clarifying the meaning of words or concepts through research and analysis.

Why are definitions important in academic writing?

They ensure clarity and precision, allowing readers to understand the specific meanings of terms used in the text.

What is the difference between defining a term and its definition?

Defining is the action of explaining a word's meaning, while a definition is the statement that results from this process.

Can defining a concept be subjective?

While definitions aim for objectivity, the process of defining can involve subjective interpretation, especially in abstract concepts.

How do definitions contribute to knowledge acquisition?

They serve as building blocks for understanding more complex ideas and facilitate learning and discussion.

What makes a good definition?

Clarity, conciseness, and the ability to convey the essence of a term effectively to the intended audience.

How does culture influence definitions?

Cultural perceptions and values can influence the interpretation and definition of terms, leading to variations across cultures.

Can the same word have multiple definitions?

Yes, depending on the context and usage, a word can have multiple meanings, each with its own definition.

Is it possible for definitions to be incorrect?

Definitions may be outdated or based on incorrect understanding, highlighting the importance of consulting reliable sources.

How do new words get defined?

Through usage, scholarly research, and consensus within linguistic and professional communities, leading to their inclusion in dictionaries.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

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