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[kon-too r] /ˈkɒn tʊər/
the outline of a figure or body; the edge or line that defines or bounds a shape or object.
Phonetics. a distinctive pattern of changes in pitch, stress, or tone extending across all or part of an utterance, especially across a sentence, and contributing to meaning.
verb (used with object)
to mark with contour lines.
to make or form the contour or outline of.
to build (a road, railroad track, etc.) in conformity with the contour of the land.
to mold or shape so as to fit a certain configuration:
cars with seats that are contoured for comfort.
molded or shaped to fit a particular contour or form:
contour seats.
Agriculture. of or used in a system of plowing, cultivating, sowing, etc., along the contour lines of the land in order to trap water runoff and prevent erosion.
Origin of contour
1655-65; < French, equivalent to con- con- + tour a turn (see tour), modeled on Italian contorno, derivative of contornare to outline; see turn
Related forms
recontour, verb (used with object)
uncontoured, adjective
1. configuration, form, boundary. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for contour
Historical Examples
  • Her contour was rather square than oblong, and she was very heavy.

    Meadow Grass Alice Brown
  • If ever he praised a limb, a tint, a contour, it was solely from the artistic point of view.

    His Masterpiece Emile Zola
  • A scanty growth of whisker did not conceal the contour of his jaw.

    End of the Tether Joseph Conrad
  • “I wonder you had the heart to risk spoiling its contour,” she said resentfully.

    Olive in Italy Moray Dalton
  • The circumference of the crest on the 10,000-foot contour is nearly seven miles.

    The Mountain that was 'God' John H. Williams
  • It was a contour map, giving the hills, sand reaches, and groves.

    The Pirate of Panama William MacLeod Raine
  • But the features were nonhuman, closer to saurian in contour.

    Storm Over Warlock Andre Norton
  • And the contour of the cliff was plainly visible in front of it.

    The White Invaders Raymond King Cummings
  • There were no lines, nothing lost, nothing hardened in contour.

    Athalie Robert W. Chambers
  • Sometimes the contour of the country drove him into the open or down into hollows.

    Brand Blotters William MacLeod Raine
British Dictionary definitions for contour


the outline of a mass of land, figure, or body; a defining line
  1. See contour line
  2. (as modifier): a contour map
(often pl) the shape or surface, esp of a curving form: the contours of her body were full and round
(modifier) shaped to fit the form of something: a contour chair
a rising and falling variation pattern, as in music and intonation
verb (transitive)
to shape so as to form the contour of something
to mark contour lines on
to construct (a road, railway, etc) to follow the outline of the land
Word Origin
C17: from French, from Italian contorno, from contornare to sketch, from tornare to turn
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 contour

1660s, a term in painting and sculpture, from French contour "circumference, outline," from Italian and Medieval Latin contornare "to go around," from Latin com-, intensive prefix (see com-), + tornare "to turn (on a lathe);" see turn (v.).

First recorded application to topography is from 1769. Earlier the word was used to mean "bedspread, quilt" (early 15c.) in reference to its falling over the sides of the mattress. Related: Contoured. Contour line in geography is from 1844.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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