from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • transitive v. To give an account of in speech or writing.
  • transitive v. To convey an idea or impression of; characterize: She described her childhood as a time of wonder and discovery.
  • transitive v. To represent pictorially; depict: Goya's etchings describe the horrors of war in grotesque detail.
  • transitive v. To trace the form or outline of: describe a circle with a compass.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. To represent in words.
  • v. (mathematics) To give rise to a geometrical structure.
  • v. (biology) To scientifically reveal a new species by technically explaining its characteristics and particularly how it differs from other species.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • intransitive v. To use the faculty of describing; to give a description.
  • transitive v. To represent by drawing; to draw a plan of; to delineate; to trace or mark out
  • transitive v. To represent by words written or spoken; to give an account of; to make known to others by words or signs.
  • transitive v. To distribute into parts, groups, or classes; to mark off; to class.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To delineate or mark the form or figure of; trace out; outline: as, to describe a circle with the compasses.
  • To form or trace by motion: as, a star describes an ellipse in the heavens.
  • To write down; inscribe.
  • To represent orally or by writing; portray in words; give an account of: as, to describe a person or a scene; to describe a battle.
  • To distribute into classes or divisions; divide for representation.
  • Synonyms Describe, Narrate, portray, explain. Describe applies primarily to what exists—space, and by extension to what occurs—time, but narrate applies only to the latter: as, to describe a view, a race, or a siege; to narrate an experience or a history. Describe implies often the vividness of personal observation; narrate is more applicable to long series of events. A single narrative may contain many descriptions of separate events.
  • To make descriptions; use the power of describing.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. make a mark or lines on a surface
  • v. to give an account or representation of in words
  • v. give a description of
  • v. identify as in botany or biology, for example


Middle English describen, from Latin dēscrībere, to write down : dē-, de- + scrībere, to write; see skrībh- in Indo-European roots.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Middle English descriven, from Old French descrivre, from Latin dēscrībō ("I copy off, transcribe, sketch off, describe in painting or writing"), from  ("off") + scrībō ("write"); see scribe and shrive. (Wiktionary)



Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • I've tried to remember this word a few times — when you're making a geometric figure in the air, there's no better verb than "describe."

    November 9, 2008