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[el-uh-muh nt] /ˈɛl ə mənt/
a component or constituent of a whole or one of the parts into which a whole may be resolved by analysis:
Bricks and mortar are elements of every masonry wall.
Chemistry. one of a class of substances that cannot be separated into simpler substances by chemical means.
a natural habitat, sphere of activity, environment, etc.:
to be in one's element; Water is the element of fish.
  1. atmospheric agencies or forces; weather:
    a ruddy complexion from exposure to the elements.
  2. the rudimentary principles of an art, science, etc.:
    the elements of grammar.
  3. the bread and wine of the Eucharistic service.
any group of people singled out within a larger group by identifiable behavior patterns, common interests, ethnic similarities, etc.:
He worried that the protest rally would attract the radical element.
one of the substances, usually earth, water, air, and fire, formerly regarded as constituting the material universe.
  1. an infinitesimal part of a given quantity, similar in nature to it.
  2. an entity that satisfies all the conditions of belonging to a given set.
Geometry. one of the points, lines, planes, or other geometrical forms, of which a figure is composed.
Astronomy. any of the data required to define the precise nature of an orbit and to determine the position of a planet in the orbit at any given time.
Electricity. an electric device with terminals for connection to other electrical devices.
Radio. one of the electrodes in a vacuum tube.
Astrology. any of the four triplicity groupings of signs: fire, earth, air, or water.
Optics. any of the lenses or other components constituting an optical system.
Grammar. any word, part of a word, or group of words that recurs in various contexts in a language with relatively constant meaning.
Digital Technology. the start and end tags in an electronic document or web page, along with the text or other content between these tags.
See also tag1 (def 9b).
Origin of element
1250-1300; Middle English (< Anglo-French) < Latin elementum one of the four elements, letter of the alphabet, first principle, rudiment
Related forms
interelement, adjective, noun
subelement, noun
Element, component, constituent, ingredient refer to units that are parts of whole or complete substances, systems, compounds, or mixtures. Element denotes a fundamental, ultimate part: the basic elements of matter; resolve the problem into its elements. Component and constituent refer to a part that goes into the making of a complete system or compound. Component often refers to one of a number of parts: a new component for the stereo system. Constituent suggests a necessary part of the whole: The constituents of a molecule of water are two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. Ingredient is most frequently used in nonscientific contexts: the ingredients of a cake; the ingredients of a successful marriage. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for element
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • It was an element of spasmodic conscience than he saw here, and it troubled him.

    Malbone Thomas Wentworth Higginson
  • The other element in the story which Synge introduces into the play is equally true.

    Riders to the Sea J. M. Synge
  • The one element Carlotta had left out of her calculations was herself.

    K Mary Roberts Rinehart
  • The circumstances of war contain every element that can shake the nerves.

    The Story of the Malakand Field Force Sir Winston S. Churchill
  • In my opinion they are a ghastly nuisance; also an element of danger.

    The Secret Agent Joseph Conrad
British Dictionary definitions for element


any of the 118 known substances (of which 93 occur naturally) that consist of atoms with the same number of protons in their nuclei Compare compound1 (sense 1)
one of the fundamental or irreducible components making up a whole
a cause that contributes to a result; factor
any group that is part of a larger unit, such as a military formation
a small amount; hint: an element of sarcasm in her voice
a distinguishable section of a social group: he belonged to the stable element in the expedition
the most favourable environment for an animal or plant
the situation in which a person is happiest or most effective (esp in the phrases in or out of one's element)
the resistance wire and its former, which constitute the electrical heater in a cooker, heater, etc
(electronics) another name for component (sense 2)
one of the four substances thought in ancient and medieval cosmology to constitute the universe (earth, air, water, or fire)
(pl) atmospheric conditions or forces, esp wind, rain, and cold: exposed to the elements
(pl) the first principles of a subject
(geometry) a point, line, plane, or part of a geometric figure
  1. any of the terms in a determinant or matrix
  2. one of the infinitesimally small quantities summed by an integral, often represented by the expression following the integral sign: in ʃbaf(x)dx, f(x)dx is an element of area
(maths, logic) one of the objects or numbers that together constitute a set
(Christianity) the bread or wine consecrated in the Eucharist
(astronomy) any of the numerical quantities, such as the major axis or eccentricity, used in describing the orbit of a planet, satellite, etc
one of the vertical or horizontal rods forming a television or VHF radio receiving aerial
(physics) a component of a compound lens
Word Origin
C13: from Latin elementum a first principle, alphabet, element, of uncertain origin
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 element

c.1300, "earth, air, fire, or water," from Old French element (10c.), from Latin elementem "rudiment, first principle, matter in its most basic form" (translating Greek stoikheion), origin unknown. Meaning "simplest component of a complex substance" is late 14c. Modern sense in chemistry is from 1813. Elements "atmospheric force" is 1550s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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element in Medicine

element el·e·ment (ěl'ə-mənt)

  1. A substance that cannot be reduced to simpler substances by normal chemical means and that is composed of atoms having an identical number of protons in each nucleus.

  2. A fundamental, essential, or irreducible constituent of a composite entity.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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element in Science
  1. A substance that cannot be broken down into simpler substances by chemical means. An element is composed of atoms that have the same atomic number, that is, each atom has the same number of protons in its nucleus as all other atoms of that element. Today 115 elements are known, of which 92 are known to occur in nature, while the remainder have only been made with particle accelerators. Eighty-one of the elements have isotopes that are stable. The others, including technetium, promethium, and those with atomic numbers higher than 83, are radioactive. See Periodic Table.

  2. Mathematics A member of a set.

Our Living Language  : When Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev devised the Periodic Table in 1869, there were 63 known elements. Mendeleev classified the known elements by atomic weight, and arranged a table listing them with vertical rows corresponding to shared chemical characteristics. Gaps in the table suggested the possibility of elements not yet discovered, and indeed elements were later discovered, or in some cases, artificially created, that filled the gaps and had the expected chemical properties. The striking correlation between the atomic weight of an element and its chemical properties was later explained by quantum mechanical theories of the atom. The weight of an atom of any given element depends on the number of protons (and neutrons) in its nucleus, but the number of protons also determines the number and arrangement of electrons that can orbit the nucleus, and it is these outer shells of electrons that largely determine the element's chemical properties. Currently, 115 distinct elements are known.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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element in Culture

element definition

In chemistry, any material (such as carbon, hydrogen, iron, or oxygen) that cannot be broken down into more fundamental substances. Each chemical element has a specific type of atom, and chemical compounds are created when atoms of different elements are bound together into molecules. There are 119 chemical elements whose discovery has been claimed; 92 occur in nature, and the rest have been produced in laboratories.

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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Idioms and Phrases with element
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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