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[kar-ik-ter] /ˈkær ɪk tər/
the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing.
one such feature or trait; characteristic.
moral or ethical quality:
a man of fine, honorable character.
qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity:
It takes character to face up to a bully.
a stain on one's character.
good repute.
an account of the qualities or peculiarities of a person or thing.
a person, especially with reference to behavior or personality:
a suspicious character.
Informal. an odd, eccentric, or unusual person.
a person represented in a drama, story, etc.
a part or role, as in a play or film.
a symbol as used in a writing system, as a letter of the alphabet.
the symbols of a writing system collectively.
a significant visual mark or symbol.
status or capacity:
the character of a justice of the peace.
a written statement from an employer concerning the qualities of a former employee.
Literature. (especially in 17th- and 18th-century England) a formal character sketch or descriptive analysis of a particular human virtue or vice as represented in a person or type.
Genetics. any trait, function, structure, or substance of an organism resulting from the effect of one or more genes as modified by the environment.
  1. any symbol, as a number, letter, punctuation mark, etc., that represents data and that, when encoded, is usable by a machine.
  2. one of a set of basic symbols that singly or in a series of two or more represents data and, when encoded, is usable in a computer.
a style of writing or printing.
Roman Catholic Theology. the ineffaceable imprint received on the soul through the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and ordination.
(formerly) a cipher or cipher message.
  1. (of a part or role) representing a personality type, especially by emphasizing distinctive traits, as language, mannerisms, physical makeup, etc.
  2. (of an actor or actress) acting or specializing in such roles.
verb (used with object), Archaic.
to portray; describe.
to engrave; inscribe.
in character,
  1. in harmony with one's personal character or disposition:
    Such behavior is not in character for him.
  2. in accordance with the role or personality assumed in a performance:
    an actor in character.
out of character,
  1. out of harmony with one's personal character or disposition:
    Her remarks were out of character.
  2. away from the role or personality assumed in a performance:
    The actor stepped out of character.
Origin of character
1275-1325; < Latin < Greek charaktḗr graving tool, its mark, equivalent to charak- (base of charáttein to engrave) + -tēr agent suffix; replacing Middle English caractere < Middle French < Latin, as above
Related forms
characterless, adjective
uncharactered, adjective
5. name, repute. 14. sign.
Synonym Study
1. Character, individuality, personality refer to the sum of the characteristics possessed by a person. Character refers especially to moral qualities, ethical standards, principles, and the like: a man of sterling character. Individuality refers to the distinctive qualities that make one recognizable as a person differentiated from others: a woman of strong individuality. Personality refers particularly to the combination of outer and inner characteristics that determine the impression that a person makes upon others: a child of vivid or pleasing personality. 5. See reputation. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for characters
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • But thou knowest their characters; and I will not therefore sully my paper with them.

    Clarissa, Volume 1 (of 9) Samuel Richardson
  • Perhaps it will be answered, Are not the characters then taken from life?

    Joseph Andrews, Vol. 2 Henry Fielding
  • They are driven by their lives and characters; I am driven by mine.'

    Little Dorrit Charles Dickens
  • Her first estimate of the characters of the two men seemed to be correct.

    A Woman Intervenes Robert Barr
  • They're all the way round, and clear through, his characters are.

    The Mystery of Murray Davenport Robert Neilson Stephens
British Dictionary definitions for characters


the combination of traits and qualities distinguishing the individual nature of a person or thing
one such distinguishing quality; characteristic
moral force; integrity: a man of character
  1. reputation, esp a good reputation
  2. (as modifier): character assassination
a summary or account of a person's qualities and achievements; testimonial: my last employer gave me a good character
capacity, position, or status: he spoke in the character of a friend rather than a father
a person represented in a play, film, story, etc; role
an outstanding person: one of the great characters of the century
(informal) an odd, eccentric, or unusual person: he's quite a character
an informal word for person a shady character
a symbol used in a writing system, such as a letter of the alphabet
(printing) Also called sort. any single letter, numeral, punctuation mark, or symbol cast as a type
(computing) any letter, numeral, etc, which is a unit of information and can be represented uniquely by a binary pattern
a style of writing or printing
(genetics) any structure, function, attribute, etc, in an organism, which may or may not be determined by a gene or group of genes
a short prose sketch of a distinctive type of person, usually representing a vice or virtue
in character, typical of the apparent character of a person or thing
out of character, not typical of the apparent character of a person or thing
verb (transitive)
to write, print, inscribe, or engrave
(rare) to portray or represent
Derived Forms
characterful, adjective
characterless, adjective
Word Origin
C14: from Latin: distinguishing mark, from Greek kharaktēr engraver's tool, from kharassein to engrave, stamp
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for characters



mid-14c., carecter, "symbol marked or branded on the body;" mid-15c., "symbol or drawing used in sorcery," from Old French caratere "feature, character" (13c., Modern French caractère), from Latin character, from Greek kharakter "engraved mark," also "symbol or imprint on the soul," also "instrument for marking," from kharassein "to engrave," from kharax "pointed stake," from PIE root *gher- "to scrape, scratch." Meaning extended in ancient times by metaphor to "a defining quality."

You remember Eponina, who kept her husband alive in an underground cavern so devotedly and heroically? The force of character she showed in keeping up his spirits would have been used to hide a lover from her husband if they had been living quietly in Rome. Strong characters need strong nourishment. [Stendhal "de l'Amour," 1822]
Meaning "sum of qualities that define a person" is from 1640s. Sense of "person in a play or novel" is first attested 1660s, in reference to the "defining qualities" he or she is given by the author. Meaning "a person" in the abstract is from 1749; especially "eccentric person" (1773). Colloquial sense of "chap, fellow" is from 1931. The Latin ch- spelling was restored from 1500s. Character actor attested from 1861; character assassination from 1888; character-building (n.) from 1886.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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characters in Medicine

character char·ac·ter (kār'ək-tər)
An attribute, trait, or distinct structural or functional feature. Also called characteristic.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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characters in Science
  1. Genetics A structure, function, or attribute determined by a gene or a group of genes.

  2. Computer Science A symbol, such as a letter, number, or punctuation mark, that occupies one byte of memory. See more at ASCII.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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characters in Culture

character definition

A person in a literary work. For example, Ebenezer Scrooge is a character in A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Slang definitions & phrases for characters



  1. A person who behaves oddly and often amusingly; an eccentric: My uncle's quite a character (1770s+)
  2. A person; joker: You know a character name of Robert Ready? (1920s+)
The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with characters
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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