Definition of contour in English:



  • 1An outline representing or bounding the shape or form of something.

    ‘she traced the contours of his face with her finger’
    figurative ‘challenges that have shaped the contours of European integration’
    • ‘But Rosa's life is also a very modern one, its broad contours shaped by global economic forces and its details modified by individual needs and personal enterprise.’
    • ‘The painter believes that he is going beyond shapes, contours and colours.’
    • ‘Angles and curves, shapes and contours fascinate young minds.’
    • ‘Open linear shapes are the contours of nurses' stations, curved forms the sine waves of various organ-function monitors.’
    • ‘Previous generations of humankind have revelled in the shape, the contours of the female form, but now, women seem to be being educated towards a near-parody of what nature originally intended.’
    • ‘It's the shapes rather than the contours which attract us in Piero's painting.’
    • ‘The rooms have shapes and contours that seem determined to disorientate, although the overall effect is striking and seductive.’
    • ‘Triangles provide stability and curved shapes soften the contours of objects.’
    • ‘He traces the trajectory of the city's industrial growth and its rising immigrant population, describing how these processes in turn shaped the contours of class formation.’
    • ‘We take for granted the unique shapes and contours of ourselves, as easily as we forget, or perhaps don't consider, our ancestry.’
    • ‘The images were precisely to scale, the contours actual traces of the plants themselves.’
    • ‘Events may have been shaped to fit the contours of a film script, but the emotional truth of the situations is vividly authentic.’
    • ‘No independent existence for women outside of the patriarchal system that shaped the contours of their lives was possible.’
    • ‘We want to shape the contours of the research setting, by presenting the latest developments and by mapping the terrain of future exploration.’
    • ‘There is an almost abstract flavour to his creations - speedy outlines and contours take shape on the canvas as he moves about in a blur.’
    • ‘Intensity modulated radiotherapy is a developing new technology which can produce an even distribution of radiation dose within a target volume which follows the contours of an irregularly shaped tumour.’
    • ‘I traced the contours of it for a moment, wondering how much longer their dewy, life-like coloring would last.’
    • ‘As feminist theorists in the 1980s and 1990s proliferated differences in order to better represent the contours of twentieth-century life, science kept pace.’
    • ‘A thick fluffy pillow was shaped to the contours of her head.’
    • ‘He was so perfectly shaped that all she wanted to do was trace the contours of his musculature and well formed face.’
    outline, shape, form
    lines, curves, figure
    silhouette, profile
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1An outline of a natural feature such as a hill.
      ‘the road climbs steadily, following the contours of the hillside’
      • ‘Lesson number two was how easy it is to be led away from your course by old tracks and the natural contours in the land.’
      • ‘Before the invention of the fridge, the track, artfully cut into the contours of the hill, was used by muleteers to haul down snow to be stored in a deep pit, which can still be seen.’
      • ‘Go through the gate and take the path which heads west and then northwest following the contours of a small hill.’
      • ‘One of the things he most loves about that landscape is the way the stone walls that thread across the hills pick out the contours of the land.’
      • ‘The greens, all of different shapes and contours, all have an excellent putting surface.’
    2. 1.2
      ‘below the 1200-ft contour is a belt of limestone’
      short for contour line
      • ‘These are represented by utility contours which indicate increased levels of happiness as we move away from the origin to higher levels of consumption of both goods.’
      • ‘Yet the map shows a broad swathe of relatively flat land skirting the foothills of the mountain at the 100ft / 33m contour, and extending up to Bundoran.’
      • ‘If combined with the airborne laser scanner, the data can be used to develop digital terrain models, contours, intensity images and other elevation representations.’
      • ‘The job might be considerably easier if the driver could don a pair of glasses that superimposes the contours of the map right on the ground.’
      • ‘In many cases the scale is not given, and in the littorals the bottom depth contours are not identified.’
    3. 1.3A line joining points on a diagram at which some property has the same value.
      ‘the figure shows contours of 21-cm line emission of atomic hydrogen’
      • ‘When I buy a house I get out the maps and study the contours, rejecting anything where there's the slightest chance of flooding.’
      • ‘A built-in Mathematica algorithm was used to fit contours to a lattice of values calculated by numerical solution of Equation 11 and Equation 12.’
      • ‘On a map without contours, two communities cut off from one another by an impassable mountain may appear as close neighbours.’
      • ‘The contours show that the steepest gradients surround the Earth and Sun, with the five Earth Lagrange Points located in equilibrium regions with relatively gentle gradient.’
      • ‘It is noteworthy that this map closely matches the petrographic contours of the geological map.’
  • 2A way in which something varies, especially the pitch of music or the pattern of tones in an utterance.

    • ‘Regardless of the words, it seems the melodic contour of the song describes the nature of the land over which the song passes.’
    • ‘Mathews brilliantly traces the precise contours of her mood swings, their pace and imagery, their irrational, irresistible force.’
    • ‘Each sentence we speak has a pitch contour associated with it that can be broken down into smaller sequences of elementary contours associated with linguistic phenomena.’
    • ‘The contour of the song from order to disorder isn't exactly revolutionary, but the change is gradual enough not to be obvious on the first couple of listens.’
    • ‘The propulsive contours Liszt assigns to the left hand all but vanished, thus attenuating texture and the work itself of its internecine dramas.’
    • ‘His orchestral forces are reduced, tempos are uniformly brisk, contours are sharpened, and his textures are ‘lean and mean’.’
    • ‘For instance, on the excellent piano-driven waltz ‘Irish Elk,’ he just seems to be singing without any sense of melodic contour, and he fails to deliver a convincing hook.’
    • ‘He wrote with great sympathy and imagination for the voice, imitating the melodic contours and rhythms of speech in what he called ‘speech melody’.’
    • ‘In Korn's unfortunate sentence, where the ambiguities are structural, a skilled speaker could easily signal the desired analysis by differences in timing, pitch contour and voice quality.’
    • ‘Dialogues varying only in their intonation contour (specifically in pitch accent or boundary tone) were presented in a random order to 47 speakers of Midwestern American English.’
    • ‘The teacher then modulated the intonational contour until it corresponded to the first syllables of the word paleontologist.’
    • ‘I've seen someone who taught a Yorkshire terrier to imitate slowly rising pitch contours, and have myself sung along with a mutt who seemed to imitate motifs from George Jones and Mozart.’
    • ‘On the contrary, many compositions strive for more elaborate contours, rhythms, and harmonic structures.’
    • ‘Menissier favors rounded contours and smooth musical lines; I tend to prefer sharper-edged and more angular interpretations.’
    • ‘More impressive still is his quicksilver dexterity in following the ever-changing contours of Sibelius' form.’
    • ‘Kom can have as many as eight phonetic tones including contours, or combinations of tones.’
    • ‘There are plenty of interesting things to say about these pitch contours, but irony and sarcasm are not an essential part of the discussion.’
    • ‘Does the contour of their accented tongues create a particular Hispanic laugh pattern?’
    • ‘Well, one sure way to butcher Scarlatti keyboard music is to use the piano to smooth over Scarlatti's sharp contours.’
    • ‘To be more precise, his phrase-final pitch contours range from slightly falling, to level, to sharply rising.’


  • 1Mould into a specific shape, especially one designed to fit into something else.

    ‘the compartment has been contoured with smooth rounded corners’
    ‘the contoured leather seats’
    • ‘The high back of the chair was contoured specifically to his own back.’
    • ‘All of his handles are contoured and rounded for the ultimate in user comfort, which has become his calling card.’
    • ‘To circumvent this, it will be helpful if the seats are designed with a contoured shape since it will reduce or eliminate pressure points.’
    • ‘Constructed of shatter-resistant plastic, the compass has an oversized, contoured knob and an adjustable nut to accommodate pens, pencils and thin markers.’
    • ‘Incidentally, all the car's seats are contoured and similar to those shaped for motor sport, providing all-round support.’
    • ‘The seats are cloth-covered, contoured, soft, with improved back support and fold-up armrests; and passengers in standard class have an extra two inches of legroom.’
    • ‘Of its many versions, there's one with a deeply contoured seat that looks frightening but is the most comfortable thing I've ever sat on.’
    • ‘Its even more powerful appearance is reflected in a new frontal design with short body overhangs and a highly contoured rear end.’
    • ‘Workers need something contoured to fit them and their office aches and pains.’
    • ‘With a few simple steps, you can transform this classically contoured design into a comfortable gliding rocker that will last for years to come.’
    • ‘The layers can be stacked like 1-millimeter-thick pages of a book, and even contoured into desired shapes prior to heating.’
    • ‘Each unit in the series has custom tubing shapes, contoured cushions and a lower profile, which combine to create a clean, contemporary look that is engaging to exercisers.’
    • ‘The outer edge is being cut to contour and then rolled into shape.’
    • ‘The strong sense of stability is created by large-diameter wheels positioned near the extreme corners of the body and by boldly contoured shoulder lines that run from the headlamps to the rear of the body.’
    • ‘Intrinsically feminine but contoured to the way that most women look, they are made on soft fabric.’
    • ‘The clip, which is contoured neatly into the pen, is also a new design.’
    • ‘In addition, they have a contoured back-supported seat that positions the user behind the pedals and 34 seat adjustment options for customization regardless of user height, according to the company.’
    • ‘Surgeons have advanced in technique to shape and contour the deeper facial tissues and resuspend them.’
    • ‘Offer quality leather that is highly contoured or very soft to conform to a woman's body.’
    shaped, contoured, fitting tightly, fitting well
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    1. 1.1Shade (an area or areas of the face) with make-up, typically foundation or bronzer, in such a way as to accentuate or enhance the facial shape or structure.
      ‘I prefer to only contour my cheeks’
      [no object] ‘it shouldn't look like you contour’
  • 2Mark (a map or diagram) with contour lines.

    ‘a huge contoured map’
    • ‘It is important to note that these maps were hand contoured, and contour software packages were not used due to accuracy and availability of data in some units.’
    • ‘Detectives can then see the results on screen as a contoured two or three-dimensional map which can help them to work out where the offender may be based.’
    • ‘Data from the first and second PC and the geographical coordinates for each breed were combined and plotted as contoured geographic maps using a geostatistical griding method.’
    • ‘These spheres are then used to compute a three-dimensional density map which, when contoured, defines the surface of the gap region.’
    • ‘A full colour photograph, contoured map and additional facts about the history, geology and wildlife of the area accompany each route.’
  • 3(of a road or railway) follow the outline of (a topographical feature), especially along a contour line.

    ‘the road contours the hillside’
    • ‘The route continued contouring the south coast, the border regions, and the north coast on return to Dili.’
    • ‘These roads contoured steep slopes above streams, and the aspect measured was that of the prevailing slope.’
    • ‘There were level parts contouring along the hillside where I sauntered past brilliant wildflowers or sharply aromatic herbs.’


Mid 17th century: from French, from Italian contorno, from contornare draw in outline, from con- together + tornare to turn.