Definition of contour in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈkɒntʊə/


1 (usually contours) An 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
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • Angles and curves, shapes and contours fascinate young minds.
  • 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.
outline, shape, form;
lines, curves, figure;
silhouette, profile
rare lineation
1.1An outline of a natural feature such as a hill: the road climbs steadily, following the contours of the hillside
More example sentences
  • Go through the gate and take the path which heads west and then northwest following the contours of a small hill.
  • 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.
1.2 short for contour line. below the 1200-ft contour is a belt of limestone
More example sentences
  • If combined with the airborne laser scanner, the data can be used to develop digital terrain models, contours, intensity images and other elevation representations.
  • In many cases the scale is not given, and in the littorals the bottom depth contours are not identified.
  • 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.
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
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • On a map without contours, two communities cut off from one another by an impassable mountain may appear as close neighbours.
2A way in which something varies, especially the pitch of music or the pattern of tones in an utterance.
Example sentences
  • He wrote with great sympathy and imagination for the voice, imitating the melodic contours and rhythms of speech in what he called ‘speech melody’.
  • 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.
  • Regardless of the words, it seems the melodic contour of the song describes the nature of the land over which the song passes.


[with object]
1Mould into a specific shape, especially one designed to fit into something else: the compartment has been contoured with smooth rounded corners (as adjective contoured) the contoured leather seats
More example sentences
  • Incidentally, all the car's seats are contoured and similar to those shaped for motor sport, providing all-round support.
  • 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.
2Mark (a map or diagram) with contour lines: (as adjective contoured) a huge contoured map
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • 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
More example sentences
  • 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.
  • The route continued contouring the south coast, the border regions, and the north coast on return to Dili.


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

  • Contour comes via French, from Italian contorno: this is from contornare ‘draw in outline’, from con- ‘together’ and tornare ‘to turn’.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: con|tour

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