verb (used with object)


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 formsre·con·tour, verb (used with object)un·con·toured, adjective

Synonyms for contour Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for contour

Historical Examples of contour

  • 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.

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 plural) the shape or surface, esp of a curving formthe contours of her body were full and round
(modifier) shaped to fit the form of somethinga contour chair
a rising and falling variation pattern, as in music and intonation

verb (tr)

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 for contour

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

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