verb (used with object), out·lined, out·lin·ing.

to draw the outline of, or draw in outline, as a figure or object.
to give an outline of; sketch the main features of: On the first day, the professor just outlined the course for us.

Origin of outline

First recorded in 1655–65; out- + line1
Related formspre·out·line, noun, verb (used with object), pre·out·lined, pre·out·lin·ing.re·out·line, verb (used with object), re·out·lined, re·out·lin·ing.well-out·lined, adjective

Synonyms for outline

1. See form. 3. plan, draft, rough, synopsis, summary. 6, 7. delineate, draft.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for outline

Contemporary Examples of outline

Historical Examples of outline

  • When Sidney saw the outline of the stable roof, she knew that it was dawn.


    Mary Roberts Rinehart

  • Dilly bent, and traced the outline of a leaf with her finger.

    Meadow Grass

    Alice Brown

  • She traced the outline of her left eyebrow, and put it right.

    Little Dorrit

    Charles Dickens

  • Let me take one example which may mark out the outline of the contention.

    Alarms and Discursions

    G. K. Chesterton

  • They have length, and breadth, and outline: have they nothing to do with depth?

    A Dish Of Orts

    George MacDonald

British Dictionary definitions for outline



a preliminary or schematic plan, draft, account, etc
(usually plural) the important features of an argument, theory, work, etc
the line by which an object or figure is or appears to be bounded
  1. a drawing or manner of drawing consisting only of external lines
  2. (as modifier)an outline map

verb (tr)

to draw or display the outline of
to give the main features or general idea of
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 outline

1660s, "lines by which a figure is delineated," from out + line (v.). Meaning "rough draft in words" is from 1759.


1790, "to draw in outline," from outline (n.). Meaning "to describe in general terms" is from 1855. Related: Outlined; outlining.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper