noun, plural keys.
- (in a keyboard instrument) one of the levers that when depressed by the performer sets in motion the playing mechanism.
- (on a woodwind instrument) a metal lever that opens and closes a vent.
- the relationship perceived between all tones in a given unit of music and a single tone or a keynote; tonality.
- the principal tonality of a composition: a symphony in the key of C minor.
- the keynote or tonic of a scale.
- a device for opening and closing electrical contacts.
- a hand-operated switching device ordinarily formed of concealed spring contacts with an exposed handle or push button, capable of switching one or more parts of a circuit.
verb (used with object), keyed, key·ing.
- to paint (a picture) in a given key.
- to adjust the colors in (a painting) to a particular hue: He keyed the painting to brown.
verb (used without object), keyed, key·ing.
- Football. to watch the position and movements of an opponent in order to anticipate a play: The defensive backs keyed on the star receiver.
- Also key in on. to single out as of prime importance or interest; be intent on or obsessed with: a company that is keyed in on growth.
- to bring to a particular degree of intensity of feeling, excitement, energy, nervousness, agitation, etc.: keyed up over the impending test.
- to raise (a piece of masonry) by the insertion of a wedge or wedges.
- to raise (the haunches of an arch) by the insertion of a voussoir.
Words nearby key
Idioms for key
Origin of key1
Definition for keys (2 of 3)
noun, plural keys.
Origin of key2
Definition for keys (3 of 3)
noun, plural keys. Slang.
Origin of key3
Examples from the Web for keys
What was America supposed to do after Pearl Harbor, put the keys to the Golden Gate in an airmail envelope and send them to Tojo?Up To A Point: What We Really Need Is a Nobel War Prize|P. J. O’Rourke|October 11, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Last Thursday, the United Nations released a report that could provide us with one of the keys to defeating ISIS.
On April 25, 1941, the Gestapo moved into the building and I had to give all the keys to the Germans.
But M. Picard advised me against it and even added that it would be unwise to keep the keys.
But the keys to their success, separated by almost exactly a century, have proven to be quite similar.
A quarter of an hour after that, Blangin reappeared, holding a lantern and an enormous bunch of keys in his hands.Within an Inch of His Life|Emile Gaboriau
The house being empty, she procured the keys from the landlord, and proceeded on a voyage of discovery alone.There is no Death|Florence Marryatt
The money, that was now Markheim's concern; and as a means to that, the keys.The Short-story|William Patterson Atkinson
Long after dusk on the evening of the seventeenth it was found that the gates were open and that the keys had disappeared.The History of England from the Accession of James II.|Thomas Babington Macaulay
Bully yarn youve turned up, came his appreciative comment over the clatter of the keys.The Gray Phantom's Return|Herman Landon
British Dictionary definitions for keys (1 of 4)
Word Origin for keys
British Dictionary definitions for keys (2 of 4)
- Also called: tonality any of the 24 major and minor diatonic scales considered as a corpus of notes upon which a piece of music draws for its tonal framework
- the main tonal centre in an extended compositiona symphony in the key of F major
- the tonic of a major or minor scale
- See tuning key
- a hand-operated device for opening or closing a circuit or for switching circuits
- a hand-operated switch that is pressed to transmit coded signals, esp Morse code
verb (mainly tr)
Derived forms of keykeyless, adjective
Word Origin for key
British Dictionary definitions for keys (3 of 4)
British Dictionary definitions for keys (4 of 4)
Scientific definitions for keys
Cultural definitions for keys
The main or central note of a piece of music (or part of a piece of music). Each key has its own scale, beginning and ending on the note that defines the octave of the next scale. The key of C-major uses a scale that starts on C and uses only the white keys of the piano. In a piece composed in the key of C, the music is likely to end on the note C, and certain combinations of notes based on C will predominate.
Idioms and Phrases with keys
In addition to the idiom beginning with key
- key up
- in key
- under lock and key