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[lim] /lɪm/
verb (used with object)
to represent in drawing or painting.
to portray in words; describe.
Obsolete. to illuminate (manuscripts).
Origin of limn
late Middle English
1400-50; late Middle English lymne, variant of Middle English luminen to illuminate (manuscripts), aphetic variant of enlumine < Middle French enluminer < Latin inlūmināre to embellish, literally, light up; see illuminate
Related forms
outlimn, verb (used with object)
unlimned, adjective
Can be confused
limb, limn. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for limn
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • As I have sketched an ideal parlour, so would I limn a bedroom I have seen.

  • No, madam; the beauty of the features the artist had set himself to limn.

    The Rosery Folk George Manville Fenn
  • How we transpose and dislocate while we limn in aerial colours!

  • It is not possible in a chapter, a book or a five-foot shelf to limn all that is even of cursory interest.

    Royal Palaces and Parks of France

    Milburg Francisco Mansfield
  • Somehow the arches and curves of its branches seemed to limn a pattern so dreadful that his heart beat faster as he gazed upon it.

    The Tree of Life Catherine Lucille Moore
  • Samuel Ferguson, in Congal, has done little more than limn an obscure shadow of that shadow: yet it haunts the imagination.

    The Washer of the Ford Fiona Macleod
  • There were no longer these telling situations to limn which spoke for themselves, and without straw, bricks are not to be made.

  • limn thou, fantastic, free Blue sirens of the sea, And beasts of heraldry.

  • I fear it is not possible to limn so many persons in so small a tablet as the compass of our plays afford.

British Dictionary definitions for limn


verb (transitive)
to represent in drawing or painting
(archaic) to describe in words
an obsolete word for illuminate
Derived Forms
limner (ˈlɪmnə) noun
Word Origin
C15: from Old French enluminer to illumine (a manuscript) from Latin inlūmināre to brighten, from lūmen light
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 limn

early 15c., "to illuminate" (manuscripts), altered from Middle English luminen, "to illuminate manuscripts" (late 14c.), from Old French luminer "light up, illuminate," from Latin luminare "illuminate, burnish," from lumen (genitive luminis) "radiant energy, light," related to lucere "to shine" (see light (n.)). Sense of "portray, depict" first recorded 1590s. Related: Limned.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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