Definition of countenance in US English:



  • 1A person's face or facial expression.

    ‘his impenetrable eyes and inscrutable countenance give little away’
    • ‘Needless to say, I was completely confused, by the Shultz twins’ rapidly changed countenances and denial.’
    • ‘The image of the bronzed countenances of the Native man and woman will only become true fixtures of the Canadian consciousness when Aboriginal people themselves admit to the true nature of their pre-settlement lives.’
    • ‘He inwardly grinned along with Elizabeth, but both of them kept impassive countenances in front of their son.’
    • ‘Hard, fearful looks crowned their countenances as they gazed upon us.’
    • ‘It was the perfect damsel-in-distress expression, she'd seen executed on the countenances of several ladies.’
    • ‘Forced to smile under the sudden shift of attention to them, Althia placidly glided into the throne room on the arm of her sister, any evidence of their recent quarrel absent from their countenances.’
    • ‘But, when you do notice the facial features, it is as though your pupils have adjusted to the darkness, and beautiful and strangely familiar countenances reveal themselves.’
    • ‘Jean just let a small smile escape her visage, and then turned her countenances back in to a frustrated manner.’
    • ‘Perhaps in reaction to the comments of their unseen interlocutors, their countenances are frozen in exasperation - one man leans forward, preparing to lunge in protest, while the other agitatedly wags his pencil.’
    • ‘The Greenheads are humanoid - human like - but their countenances and outlines are conspicuously similar to the Grays, the archetypal aliens who appear in abduction stories in popular culture.’
    • ‘Many faces appear and I try and commensurate local architecture with countenances.’
    • ‘‘I can't be the only person to see that,’ one of the women said, and the rest of the women shook their heads; once more, their wild hair flew about their surprised countenances.’
    • ‘The servant, as that was now what he all-too-obviously was, prayed no one would notice his slip of the tongue, but clearly they remained unanswered by the expressions on everyone's surprised and confused countenances.’
    • ‘A quick glance at some of the figures, ironically, and several of the figures seem to resemble one another, with their pointed headdresses and bug-eyed countenances.’
    • ‘As for the Americans, theirs were grim countenances.’
    • ‘Her intense awareness of the camera's abilities is registered in every detail of her pictures, in the precision of their compositions, and in the countenances of her subjects.’
    • ‘The artist was taught to locate the animal traits beneath human countenances, creating a sketch that teetered on the cusp between Homo sapiens and the lower creatures: truer to life than the mundane appearance of the subject himself.’
    • ‘A monk gazes upward through a dark chapel towards a shining stained-glass triptych; a nun gazes across a black expanse at a candle flame; wizened, benevolent countenances are upturned, and the light of faith shines down upon them.’
    • ‘The countenances range from human to somewhat animal-like to simply weird; most are done in a unique style, with sharply cut, striking features and exaggerated eyes.’
    • ‘Another British soldier stopped dead in his tracks and looked across the street at the four children, their smiles rapidly fading with guilty countenances replacing them.’
    • ‘Several portraits feature beautiful faces, some with deeply lined, wizened countenances.’
    face, features, physiognomy, profile
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  • 2Support.

    ‘she was giving her specific countenance to the occasion’
    • ‘Is there any parent who would argue for, or countenance, the early evacuation of one sick child from an Intensive Care Unit bed in favour of their own child?’
    • ‘No judicial countenance can or ought to be given in matters of taxation to any system of extra-legal concessions.’
    • ‘We all know the ABC would never give countenance to the perverted influence of base and vulgar advertising.’
    • ‘The man, appropriately, shone his countenance approvingly upon her.’
    • ‘This was an insult he could no longer countenance, and so he had decided that all high-risk surgeries would be transferred to another hospital.’
    • ‘Moyes cannot help but countenance going the same way.’
    backing, help, assistance, aid, votes, endorsement, sanction, approval, blessing, patronage
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[with object]
  • Admit as acceptable or possible.

    ‘he was reluctant to countenance the use of force’
    • ‘Defeat from Wales in London on Saturday cannot be countenanced by a nation who continually boast of their strength in depth and competition for places, but who suddenly look bereft in key areas.’
    • ‘The man seems simply incapable of countenancing the notion that this nation can ever do wrong.’
    • ‘No such impropriety will be countenanced in Down District, however, with the sites open to Councillors being of a legal, technical and educational nature only.’
    • ‘A refusal to co-operate would not be countenanced.’
    • ‘And to sever ‘human life’ from personhood is the slipperiest of slopes, and should not be countenanced by anyone who doesn't wish to risk ending up on the wrong side of the definition.’
    • ‘Some friends say she is already countenancing life outside of Downing Street.’
    • ‘The Chairman said although it sounded funny, that sort of thing must not be countenanced, and the Surveyor was instructed to notify the police and take proceedings against any future offenders.’
    • ‘It is irresponsible and it should not be engaged in, and it should not be countenanced.’
    • ‘But the arrogance that enables Cassell to be such a reliable shooter in the clutch prevents him from countenancing the fact that he's a defensive liability.’
    • ‘My mother was responsible, solely because in deference to his manic passion for rock 'n' roll music my father wanted to call me Elvisa and had to be countenanced at all costs.’
    • ‘Even the most hawkish leaders baulked at countenancing a right of pre-emptive action when the world's principal disputants both had nuclear missile submarines designed to evade a surprise attack.’
    • ‘Defeat to ‘the town’ team would not have been countenanced in the past and this result will surely send shock waves across the Slieve Blooms.’
    • ‘‘It is discriminatory and cannot be countenanced,’ she said.’
    • ‘We think countenancing any other position would totally undermine our members going about their duty and put them at phenomenal risk.’
    • ‘Of course, it is understood the money must be used strictly for digging wells[… ] and no other use will be countenanced, that must be understood. […]’
    • ‘Racist behaviour is criminal, and cannot be countenanced.’
    • ‘They show contempt for their vows and pose a danger of showing more serious contempt for our children which should not be countenanced.’
    • ‘Capital punishment has been outlawed most places, and even where it is allowed, brutality of that kind would not be countenanced.’
    • ‘Engineering is countenanced only as a desperate last-ditch response to climatic catastrophe.’
    • ‘Not coincidentally, this came just as he was countenancing the possibility of employing his services elsewhere.’
    tolerate, permit, allow, admit of, approve, approve of, agree to, consent to, give one's blessing to, take kindly to, be in favour of, favour, hold with, go along with, put up with, endure, brook, stomach, swallow, bear
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  • keep one's countenance

    • Maintain one's composure, especially by refraining from laughter.

      • ‘For my part I decided that for once in my life it was wisest to keep my countenance.’
      • ‘Party leaders, however, apparently kept their countenance to avoid getting involved in any issues related to party reform.[, waiting to see what President Chen wanted, Hong said.]’
      • ‘Dislike welled up inside me, but I managed to keep my countenance and voice cordial.’
      • ‘Rachel could continue to sense his scrutiny, and because of that kept her countenance strictly controlled.’
  • keep someone in countenance

    • Help someone to remain calm and confident.

      ‘to keep herself in countenance she opened her notebook’
      • ‘Faith, I'm afraid, master, I'll make a bad hand of it; but, sure, it's something to have Judy here to keep me in countenance.’
      • ‘But the thought of having that venerable hero to keep me in countenance emboldens me to risk everything; I am no older than he.’
      • ‘‘Most assuredly,’ said the Prime Minister. ‘And I hope that you will keep me in countenance.’’
      • ‘But sure he, who is so civil to ladies, had heard that I designed such an address, and, contenting himself with having got so much the advantage of me in Pompey, was willing to yield me this mate in chess, and to write ill on purpose to keep me in countenance.’
      • ‘It is his[Putin's] reward for letting the [ABM] treaty go down the tubes without throwing a temper tantrum, and it keeps him in countenance at home.’
      • ‘As our officers had taken up their quarters at a hotel opposite, and were in the article of dress even worse off than myself (having only the old torn regimentals on their backs), I invited them to keep me in countenance, and we passed the day together in playing at piquet and laughing at each others dress.’
      • ‘Well, my brethren, if it should ever be the fashion to wear wooden legs I shall be eccentric enough to keep to those which nature gave me, weak as they are, and I trust that the number of eccentric people will be sufficient to keep me in countenance.’
      • ‘This, however, serves to keep me in countenance, that others, endowed with much superior knowledge, and quicker penetration, have not been more successful than myself.’
  • out of countenance

    • Disconcerted or unpleasantly surprised.

      ‘I put him clean out of countenance just by looking at him’
      • ‘Our people, who discovered the cause of my mirth, bore me company in laughing, at which the old fellow was fool enough to be angry and out of countenance.’
      • ‘He claimed to have chipped bits off the very outcrop of the California Rand, without finding it worth while to bring away, but none of these things put him out of countenance.’
      • ‘And she burst into a loud laugh, thinking to put the clerk out of countenance; but Malicorne sustained the attack bravely.’
      • ‘Let death itself stare him in the face, he will presumptuously maintain his hope, as if he would look the grim messenger out of countenance.’
      • ‘The slaves laughed and clapped their hands, so that my brother was quite out of countenance.’
      • ‘Never had I seen the man so put out of countenance and so disturbed.’
      • ‘But when the men appear who ask our votes as representatives of this ideal, we are sadly out of countenance.’
      • ‘The fox was too wily to be put out of countenance by even such a surprise as this.’
      • ‘Perpetual pushing and assurance put a difficulty out of countenance, and make a seeming impossibility give way.’
      • ‘Don Quixote, covered with shame and out of countenance, ran to pluck the plume from his poor jade's tail, while Sancho did the same for Dapple.’


Middle English: from Old French contenance ‘bearing, behavior’, from contenir (see contain). The early sense was ‘bearing, demeanor’, also ‘facial expression’, hence ‘the face’.