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[ten-er] /ˈtɛn ər/
the course of thought or meaning that runs through something written or spoken; purport; drift.
continuous course, progress, or movement.
Rhetoric. the subject of a metaphor, as “she” in “She is a rose.”.
Compare vehicle (def 8).
  1. the adult male voice intermediate between the bass and the alto or countertenor.
  2. a part sung by or written for such a voice, especially the next to the lowest part in four-part harmony.
  3. a singer with such a voice.
  4. an instrument corresponding in compass to this voice, especially the viola.
  5. the lowest-toned bell of a peal.
quality, character, or condition.
Music. of, relating to, or having the compass of a tenor.
Origin of tenor
1250-1300; < Medieval Latin, Latin: course, continuity, tone, equivalent to ten(ēre) to hold + -or -or1; replacing Middle English ten(o)ur < Anglo-French < Latin, as above
Related forms
tenorless, adjective
Can be confused
tender, tenor, tenure.
1. sense, import, content, substance, gist. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for tenor
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • O that like thine were the tenor of my life, like thine the tenor of my conversation!

  • The harmonies which you mean are the mixed or tenor Lydian, and the full-toned or bass Lydian, and such like.

    The Republic Plato
  • Tall and very dark, he looked unlike the ideal Wagner tenor.

    Melomaniacs James Huneker
  • The tenor of his thoughts caused him to abandon his caution.

    The Coyote James Roberts
  • As the tenor of them may not have been very intelligible, allow me to repeat.

British Dictionary definitions for tenor


  1. the male voice intermediate between alto and baritone, having a range approximately from the B a ninth below middle C to the G a fifth above it
  2. a singer with such a voice
  3. a saxophone, horn, recorder, etc, intermediate in compass and size between the alto and baritone or bass
  4. (as modifier): a tenor sax
general drift of thought; purpose: to follow the tenor of an argument
  1. (in early polyphonic music) the part singing the melody or the cantus firmus
  2. (in four-part harmony) the second lowest part lying directly above the bass
  1. the heaviest and lowest-pitched bell in a ring
  2. (as modifier): a tenor bell
a settled course of progress
(archaic) general tendency
(finance) the time required for a bill of exchange or promissory note to become due for payment
  1. the exact words of a deed, etc, as distinct from their effect
  2. an exact copy or transcript
Derived Forms
tenorless, adjective
Word Origin
C13 (originally: general meaning or sense): from Old French tenour, from Latin tenor a continuous holding to a course, from tenēre to hold; musical sense via Italian tenore, referring to the voice part that was continuous, that is, to which the melody was assigned
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 tenor

c.1300, "general meaning, purpose, drift," from Old French tenour "substance, sense" (13c.), from Latin tenorem (nominative tenor) "contents, course," originally "a holding on," from tenere "to hold" (see tenet). The musical sense of "high male voice" is attested from late 14c., because the sustained melody (canto fermo) was carried by the tenor's part.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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tenor in Culture

tenor definition

The highest range of the male singing voice. (Compare baritone and bass.)

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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