[ 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.

Nearby words

  1. tenontodynia,
  2. tenontomyoplasty,
  3. tenontoplasty,
  4. tenophyte,
  5. tenoplasty,
  6. tenor clef,
  7. tenor cor,
  8. tenor horn,
  9. tenoreceptor,
  10. tenorist

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 formsten·or·less, adjective

Can be confusedtender tenor tenure

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for tenor

British Dictionary definitions for tenor


/ (ˈtɛnə) /


Derived Formstenorless, adjective

Word Origin for tenor

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

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

Culture definitions for tenor


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 Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.