Definition of envelope in English:



  • 1A flat paper container with a sealable flap, used to enclose a letter or document.

    • ‘It is enclosed in a sealed envelope along with this letter.’
    • ‘Many of those in the line clutched envelopes containing documents such as birth and marriage certificates, along with photographs.’
    • ‘In the latest incident, at 12.30 pm on Sunday, a 93-year-old woman had a brown envelope containing documents stolen.’
    • ‘Each letter had a small number in the corner on the backside of the letter; in the envelope was just paper, nothing else.’
    • ‘For years, the yellowing envelope and the letter it contained were kept solely for nostalgia value, despite being pressed into service as a humble bookmark.’
    • ‘Residents will have until January 6 to return the ballot paper in the pre-paid envelope which will come with the letter.’
    • ‘Declined manuscripts will be returned if stamped, self-addressed envelopes are enclosed with submissions.’
    • ‘The soldier would then enclose his ballot and the thrice-signed document in an envelope.’
    • ‘Completed questionnaires were mailed back to the research team in self-addressed, stamped envelopes enclosed with the surveys.’
    • ‘New product areas would include drawing paper, envelopes, greetings cards and stationary folders.’
    • ‘They are all instant communications that are far less bother than putting pen to paper, finding an envelope, licking the flap, sticking on a stamp and popping it in a post box.’
    • ‘What made it worse was they had not paid enough postage for the weight of paper the envelopes contained.’
    • ‘The pens and pencils were in a can on the corner, a small box contained crisp white envelopes, extra paper was in a folder, and a stack of manuscripts sat on the far side of the desk.’
    • ‘The letters contained a smaller envelope each, with the defendant's name on three of these and a further two names on the other two.’
    • ‘She was typing letters, envelopes and handwriting appointments onto paper planners that were stuffed in ragged edged file folders.’
    • ‘Each survey was enclosed in a stamped envelope, addressed to the researcher.’
    • ‘Returning envelopes containing ballot papers are also distinctively marked to aid sorting.’
    • ‘To maintain secrecy, the return ballot paper envelope had a detachable flap on which the voter filled in their details.’
    • ‘The paperwork involved is horrendous - ballot papers, witness forms, pre-paid envelopes, ballot paper envelopes and explanatory notes.’
    • ‘My boss handed me the envelope containing the necessary papers.’
    wrapper, wrapping, wrap, sleeve, cover, covering
    View synonyms
  • 2A covering or containing structure or layer.

    ‘the external envelope of the swimming pool’
    • ‘The laboratory blocks within the overall envelope are linked by walkways, bridges and meeting platforms.’
    • ‘Its strong external envelope, made from several distinct Titanium shells, will protect it from the dangers of a long flight in space's hostile environment.’
    • ‘Providers know that they have to work within the envelope of resources earned by the insurance plan.’
    • ‘Suppose the atmosphere of our planet to be surrounded by an envelope impervious to light, with an aperture on the sunward side, through which a solar beam could enter and cross our atmosphere.’
    • ‘Located at the outer edges of the building and formed by the external envelope, these lofts are moulded by folds that are conspicuous both inside and out.’
    • ‘Construction of the house commenced on-site on October 14 and the structural envelope was erected in an incredible five days.’
    • ‘No one can do any work within the structural envelope of the building.’
    • ‘A sea-urchin egg is surrounded by a protective covering known as the vitelline envelope, which in turn is covered with a thick coat of jelly.’
    • ‘The observed tide is a result of the rotation of the Earth within the envelope of the two deformations, which remain fixed in orientation relative to the Moon and Sun.’
    • ‘But it is noticeable that, even within the overall envelope of European culture, it is all too easy for despotism, of one sort or another, to become the ruling paradigm.’
    • ‘This provides a visually intricate envelope to the external public space and assists night-time security to the main entrance.’
    • ‘In this approach they have the patient stay within the envelope and only use a comfortable range of energy expenditure.’
    • ‘In addition to serving as a semipermeable layer, the envelope in cucumber, muskmelon, and other cucurbitaceous seeds is known to act as the primary barrier to radicle emergence.’
    • ‘In summer the fan is reversed, cooling the building by drawing fresh air through louvres in the external envelope.’
    • ‘The bones of the ankles and feet also took on a paddle shape, and individual digits were closely packed within a streamlining envelope of soft tissue.’
    • ‘We checked in with the frigate, made sure her winds were within our approach envelope, and landed at 0757.’
    • ‘It was however still possible to tell the location of the nuclear envelope to within 1-2 m.’
    • ‘‘I wanted to hint at the modern interior that's behind the historic external envelope,’ he says.’
    • ‘Concrete grade beams spanning between the caissons were used to accommodate external envelope conditions and elevator pits.’
    • ‘Then I fly the boom around to make sure it can fly within the prescribed envelope.’
    1. 2.1 The outer metal or glass housing of a vacuum tube, electric light, etc.
      ‘the switch itself is a glass envelope filled with rare gases and containing two contacts’
      • ‘The glass envelope gently undulates to follow the site as it moves along the riverfront; it seems to express the flow of the water.’
      • ‘The presumption that the glass envelopes of these bulbs function as cutoff filters to remove short wavelength radiation was unsubstantiated.’
      • ‘As you know from replacing light bulbs, there is a large, thin, frosted glass envelope in the familiar light bulb shape.’
      • ‘The other great problem of glass envelopes is their transparency not only to light, but to much of the electro-magnetic spectrum.’
      cover, case, shell, sheath, sheathing, wrapper, wrapping, sleeve, jacket, housing, capsule, folder
      View synonyms
    2. 2.2 The structure within a balloon or non-rigid airship containing the gas.
      • ‘They hold open the envelope as the balloon is inflated.’
      • ‘He led a team of 12 in Glastonbury, which designed and built the balloon envelope and flight platform.’
      • ‘The team plays an important role in ensuring the balloon is prepared and filled to suit the timing of the launch and to ensure the envelope is ready for take off.’
      • ‘At this time of day, the world is wonderfully peaceful - just the sound of distant burners pushing hot air into the envelopes of nearby balloons and songbirds below.’
    3. 2.3Microbiology A membrane which forms the outer layer of certain viruses.
      • ‘The cell envelope of gram-positive bacteria consists of the cytoplasmic membrane and a cell wall.’
      • ‘The insertion of the fusion peptide in the host membrane provides the necessary link between the viral envelope and the cell membrane.’
      • ‘The departing viruses therefore have an envelope that can fuse with the membranes of nearby cells, allowing the virus to enter.’
      • ‘Evidence suggesting the existence of multiple import pathways at the outer envelope membrane for different classes of precursor proteins has been presented.’
      • ‘As the infection progresses, however, each sequential form of the virus envelope increasingly escapes detection.’
    4. 2.4Electronics A curve joining the successive peaks of a modulated wave.
      • ‘Noise, when used with a vocal modulator, traces the envelope of the vocal with wideband noise.’
    5. 2.5Mathematics A curve or surface tangent to each of a family of curves or surfaces.
      • ‘Jacob Bernoulli also discovered a general method to determine evolutes of a curve as the envelope of its circles of curvature.’
      • ‘We looked at it, and it's just a sine wave, an envelope of minimum and maximum, with the width of the wave showing the time in boom vs. the time in recession.’
      • ‘To compare the deuterium contents of the different peptides, an averaged mass was obtained by centroiding the envelope of isotopic peaks.’
      • ‘In particular he constructed the tangent plane and exhibited the surface as an envelope of planes.’
      • ‘The idea of an envelope of a family of lines had not been mentioned either.’


  • the back of an envelope

    • Used in reference to calculations or plans of the most sketchy kind.

      ‘a proposal drawn up on the back of an envelope’
      • ‘I said it was because I believed in the theatre as a figurative art, not something contrived on the back of an envelope.’
      • ‘But it was hardly an overnight plot devised on the back of an envelope.’
      • ‘20 years ago, the song was fine - the whole point of the project was a sudden response to a terrible situation, so it didn't matter that the song was written in ten minutes on the back of an envelope.’
      • ‘Simple calculations on the back of an envelope will do for a start.’
      • ‘The probe began life as a sketch drawn on the back of an envelope during a night at the pub.’
      • ‘It's much higher than the age pension, but a quick calculation on the back of an envelope will tell you that it's not going to allow many of the activities we might hope for in retirement - travel, entertainment, books and the like.’
      • ‘The Scottish Socialist Party wants to get rid of the council tax and have done some calculations on the back of an envelope in order to redistribute the burden of local taxation.’
      • ‘It is a well known fact that all inventors get their first ideas on the back of an envelope.’
      • ‘For once, the proposals - addressing parents, school, punishment, drug addiction, targets, and police paperwork - don't look as if they were written on the back of an envelope.’
      • ‘Visiting a clean water project, he did a swift calculation on the back of an envelope and announced that the whole country could be provided with water for $25 million.’
  • push the envelope (or the edge of the envelope)

    • Approach or extend the limits of what is possible.

      ‘these are extremely witty and clever stories that consistently push the envelope of TV comedy’
      • ‘I don't push the envelope just for the sake of pushing the envelope.’
      • ‘The evening news was a little strange but I could tell the newsroom was starting to get a feel for the limits now and were pushing the envelope as far as they could.’
      • ‘You have to be able to push the edge of the envelope, but you have to be able to do it in a way that you can see what the community of users' reaction is.’
      • ‘We're trying to push the envelope as much as possible.’
      • ‘But the trend is to go to the extreme, push the envelope and be as outrageous as possible.’
      • ‘He's a coach - like every other coach - who pushes the envelope as far as possible to create a winning advantage.’
      • ‘The Film Board has always been here to push the envelope, to push the film language, and this is where we excel, what we are good at.’
      • ‘He pushed the envelope of possibility with his art, but pushes the boundaries of acceptable conduct as well.’
      • ‘To say that he bends the rules, pushes the envelope and extends the possibilities of fiction is to state only part of the case.’
      • ‘On more than one occasion, she says, publishers have approached her to push the envelope - to write a novel of her own.’


Mid 16th century (in the sense ‘wrapper, enveloping layer’; originally as envelope): from French enveloppe, from envelopper ‘envelop’. The sense ‘covering of a letter’ dates from the early 18th century.