Definition of element in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈeləmənt/


1A part or aspect of something abstract, especially one that is essential or characteristic: the death had all the elements of a great tabloid story there are four elements to the proposal
More example sentences
  • All the elements of a good dark comedy are here: a murder, a dysfunctional family, someone in a clown suit and so on - but they should be tweaked further.
  • There are all the elements of dance and theatre combined with the visceral thrill of watching metal meet metal again and again until, finally, metal meets actor.
  • But it was also the subject of prosecutions under orthodox 19th century criminal law, all the elements of which survive.
component, constituent, part, section, portion, piece, segment, bit;
aspect, factor, feature, facet, ingredient, strand, detail, point;
member, unit, module, item
1.1A small but significant presence of a feeling or abstract quality: it was the element of danger he loved in flying
More example sentences
  • These qualities inject an element of interactivity in good drawings.
  • It was a dialogue - based work with a significant element of psychology.
  • Protocols have been established, so there's a significant element of confidence when we go into humans.
trace, touch, hint, smattering, soupçon
1.2 (elements) The rudiments of a branch of knowledge: legal training may include the elements of economics and political science
More example sentences
  • And, I think that would be the best pedagogical introduction, to the elements of the subject-matter.
  • At the time when these papers were written he had received no instruction in mathematics beyond a few books of Euclid and the merest elements of algebra.
  • The book contained the elements of geometry and algebra in addition to the calculus.
basics, essentials, principles, first principles;
foundations, fundamentals, rudiments
informal nuts and bolts, ABCs
1.3 [usually with modifier] (often elements) A group of people of a particular kind within a larger group or organization: extreme right-wing elements in the army
More example sentences
  • There has even been speculation that some rogue elements within the British Army tried to sabotage Stevens' light aircraft last year.
  • I don't rule out that some rogue elements within, say, one unit might misbehave, but that does not make it at all a policy.
  • Muslim leaders in Britain agree that there are extremist elements within their communities but they disagree on how to tackle them.
1.4 Mathematics & Logic An entity that is a single member of a set.
Example sentences
  • In his talk Steinitz introduced an algebra over the ring of integers whose base elements are isomorphism classes of finite abelian groups.
  • Its elements are transformed into vectors of another linear space, in which data is assigned.
  • In his doctoral dissertation of 1934 he considered permutation groups whose elements are determined by the images of three points.
2 (also chemical element) Each of more than one hundred substances that cannot be chemically interconverted or broken down into simpler substances and are primary constituents of matter. Each element is distinguished by its atomic number, i.e., the number of protons in the nuclei of its atoms.
Example sentences
  • He called atoms of the second group isotopes, atoms of the same element with different atomic weights.
  • Early in 1999 synthesis of the element with atomic number 114 was reported.
  • He postulated that all the atoms of the same element have the same atomic mass, while the atoms of a different element have a different atomic mass.
2.1Any of the four substances (earth, water, air, and fire) regarded as the fundamental constituents of the world in ancient and medieval philosophy.
Example sentences
  • It was a story he recognised could only be told in terms of the four fundamental elements: earth, air, fire, water.
  • She controlled the four master elements: Fire, Water, Earth and Air.
  • I believe that there are four elements: earth, fire, water, and air.
2.2One of the four substances (earth, water, air, or fire) considered as a person’s or animal’s natural environment: for the islanders, the sea is their kingdom, water their element
More example sentences
  • Larkham was in his element in his country's victory over Romania as he constantly probed for breaks against a brittle defence.
  • I do believe he was in his element last night as a country singer, but his performance just really annoyed me.
  • He used to sit in the pub in Greek Street, next to our office, surrounded by admirers, and he was in his element.
2.3 (the elements) The weather, especially strong winds, heavy rain, and other kinds of bad weather: there was no barrier against the elements
More example sentences
  • In the first part of the second half both sides had to defy the elements of wind and rain storms.
  • Life is still much the same: a constant battle against the elements, as wind and sleeting rain batter the coal-mining land to black slush and mud.
  • Palmer and his associates struggle through the elements wrapped in heavy furs, their breath freezing in the air.
weather, climate, meteorological conditions, atmospheric conditions;
wind, rain, snow
2.4 (elements) (In church use) the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
Example sentences
  • Both the consecrated elements and the church simply are the body of Christ.
  • The non-divine, but human-made Eucharistic elements of bread and wine can affect only the material body.
  • It is a sacred meal in which the minister consecrates the elements by asking God to set them apart from their normal and common uses.
3A part in an electric teapot, heater, or stove that contains a wire through which an electric current is passed to provide heat.
Example sentences
  • An electric-resistance water heater has electric heating elements submerged in a storage tank.
  • The spokesman said preliminary investigations showed that overheated wires in a heater element, and an overloaded thermostat, may have been the cause.
  • They can - and will need to be - repaired over and over, mostly replacing the wire heating element and thermostat.
3.1On some electric typewriters, a ball with raised letters that print when the keys are pressed.


be in (or out of) one's element

Be in (or not in) a situation or environment that one particularly likes and in which one can perform well: she was in her element with doctors and hospitals
More example sentences
  • The mice scattered as he approached and pounced, and before long he was in his element.
  • The crowd did its best to make him feel welcome, but Gibson was clearly out of his element.
  • And so I found myself in Brighton and in my element.


Middle English (denoting fundamental constituents of the world or celestial objects): via Old French from Latin elementum 'principle, rudiment', translating Greek stoikheion 'step, component part'.

  • Latin elementum ‘principle, rudiment’ is the source of element. In medieval times people thought that everything was made up from four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. They also believed that each kind of living creature had a natural affinity with one of these elements: most commonly these were air and water, although the salamander, for example, was supposed to live in fire. From this idea came that of a person's natural or preferred environment, and of being in your element if you are doing something that you love. The element was sometimes used specifically to mean ‘the sky’, and the elements became a term for strong winds, heavy rain, and other kinds of bad weather. Elementary is particularly associated with Sherlock Holmes saying ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’, although the phrase is not actually found in any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books. Holmes did certainly say ‘My dear Watson’, and he said ‘Exactly, my dear Watson’; but the famous phrase does not appear until 1915, in P. Smith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: el·e·ment

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