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Definition of essay

 (Entry 1 of 2)

Definition of essay  (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

  • composition

attempt , try , endeavor , essay , strive mean to make an effort to accomplish an end.

attempt stresses the initiation or beginning of an effort.

try is often close to attempt but may stress effort or experiment made in the hope of testing or proving something.

endeavor heightens the implications of exertion and difficulty.

essay implies difficulty but also suggests tentative trying or experimenting.

strive implies great exertion against great difficulty and specifically suggests persistent effort.

Examples of essay in a Sentence

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'essay.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Middle French essai , ultimately from Late Latin exagium act of weighing, from Latin ex- + agere to drive — more at agent

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 4

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Phrases Containing essay

  • essay question
  • photo - essay

Articles Related to essay

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To 'Essay' or 'Assay'?

You'll know the difference if you give it the old college essay

Dictionary Entries Near essay

Cite this entry.

“Essay.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/essay. Accessed 20 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition

Kids definition of essay.

Kids Definition of essay  (Entry 2 of 2)

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Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about essay

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What does the noun essay mean?

There are 12 meanings listed in OED's entry for the noun essay , nine of which are labelled obsolete. See ‘Meaning & use’ for definitions, usage, and quotation evidence.

essay has developed meanings and uses in subjects including

Entry status

OED is undergoing a continuous programme of revision to modernize and improve definitions. This entry has not yet been fully revised.

How common is the noun essay ?

How is the noun essay pronounced?

British english, u.s. english, where does the noun essay come from.

Earliest known use

The earliest known use of the noun essay is in the late 1500s.

OED's earliest evidence for essay is from 1597, in the writing of Francis Bacon, lord chancellor, politician, and philosopher.

It is also recorded as a verb from the Middle English period (1150—1500).

essay is a borrowing from French.

Etymons: French essai .

Nearby entries

  • esrache, v. 1477
  • esraj, n. 1921–
  • ESRO, n. 1961–
  • ess, n. 1540–
  • -ess, suffix¹
  • -ess, suffix²
  • essamplerie, n. 1393
  • essart, n. 1656–
  • essart, v. 1675–
  • essarting, n. a1821–
  • essay, n. 1597–
  • essay, v. 1483–
  • essayal, n. 1837–
  • essayer, n. 1611–
  • essayette, n. 1877–
  • essayfy, v. 1815–
  • essay-hatch, n. 1721–
  • essayical, adj. 1860–
  • essaying, n. 1861–
  • essaying, adj. 1641–
  • essayish, adj. 1863–

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Meaning & use

Pronunciation, compounds & derived words, entry history for essay, n..

essay, n. was first published in 1891; not yet revised.

essay, n. was last modified in June 2024.

Revision of the OED is a long-term project. Entries in oed.com which have not been revised may include:

  • corrections and revisions to definitions, pronunciation, etymology, headwords, variant spellings, quotations, and dates;
  • new senses, phrases, and quotations which have been added in subsequent print and online updates.

Revisions and additions of this kind were last incorporated into essay, n. in June 2024.

Earlier versions of this entry were published in:

OED First Edition (1891)

  • Find out more

OED Second Edition (1989)

  • View essay, n. in OED Second Edition

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Citation details

Factsheet for essay, n., browse entry.

  • 1.1.1 Pronunciation
  • 1.1.2.1 Derived terms
  • 1.1.2.2 Related terms
  • 1.1.2.3 Translations
  • 1.2.1 Pronunciation
  • 1.2.2.1 Translations
  • 1.3 Anagrams
  • 2.1 Etymology
  • 2.2 Pronunciation
  • 2.3.1 Hypernyms
  • 2.3.2 Derived terms
  • 2.3.3 Descendants
  • 3.1 Etymology
  • 3.2.1 Derived terms
  • 3.3 References
  • 4.1 Etymology
  • 4.2.1 Derived terms
  • 4.3 References

Etymology 1

Since late 16th century, borrowed from Middle French essay , essai ( “ essay ” ) , meaning coined by Montaigne in the same time, from the same words in earlier meanings 'experiment; assay; attempt', from Old French essay , essai , assay , assai , from Latin exagium ( “ weight; weighing, testing on the balance ” ) , from exigere + -ium .

Pronunciation

  • ( Received Pronunciation , General American ) IPA ( key ) : /ˈɛs.eɪ/ (1), IPA ( key ) : /ɛˈseɪ/ (2-4)
Audio ( ): ( )
  • Rhymes: -ɛseɪ
  • Homophone : ese

essay ( plural essays )

  • 2013 January, Katie L. Burke, “Ecological Dependency”, in American Scientist ‎ [1] , volume 101 , number 1, archived from the original on 9 February 2017 , page 64 : In his first book since the 2008 essay collection Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature , David Quammen looks at the natural world from yet another angle: the search for the next human pandemic, what epidemiologists call “the next big one.”
  • ( obsolete ) A test , experiment ; an assay .
  • 1861 , E. J. Guerin, Mountain Charley , page 16 : My first essay at getting employment was fruitless; but after no small number of mortifying rebuffs from various parties to whom I applied for assistance, I was at last rewarded by a comparative success.
  • 1988 , James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom , Oxford, published 2003 , page 455 : This was Lee's first essay in the kind of offensive-defensive strategy that was to become his hallmark.
  • ( philately , finance ) A proposed design for a postage stamp or a banknote .

Derived terms

  • argumentative essay
  • automated essay scoring
  • eight-legged essay
  • essay question
  • photo-essay
  • photo essay

Related terms

Translations.

      (maqāla),     (baḥṯ)   (šaradrutʻyun),   (ēsse) (rosona)   , , ,   (inşa) (in high school)   (tvor),   (esé),   (nárys)   (probondho)     (esé),     (sǎčinénie),     (óčerk)   (cacicakum:),   (catam:ngai)     (zok man )   (záwén),   (lùnwén),   (zuòwén)         ,         ,     ,     ,   ;   ,   (in school)     ,     ,       (ese), (txzuleba)     ,         (dokímio),     (pragmateía),     (ékthesi),   (sýngrama)   (meletḗmata)     (masá)     (nibandh),   (mazmūn)                 ,     ,       (essei),   (ずいひつ, zuihitsu) (ésse),   (şyğarma), (oçerk),   (maqala) (ʼatthaʼbɑt)   (supil), (esei) (esse), (dilbayan), (ocerk) ,       (esej) ,   ,     (upanyāsaṁ)     (nibandha)     (maqāla)   (maqâle),   (jostâr)     ,     ,       ,             (sočinénije),     (essɛ́),     (óčerk)                 ,        class     ,       (maqola), (navištor), (inšo)   (inşa)   (vyāsamu)   (kwaam-riiang)   ,     (esé),   (eséj),     (tvir),   (nárys) (maqālā), (inśāiyā),     (mazmūn)   (maqale)   ,   ,   ,         ,       (esey)

Etymology 2

From Middle French essayer , essaier , from Old French essaiier , essayer , essaier , assaiier , assayer , assaier , from essay , essai , assay , assai ( “ attempt; assay; experiment ” ) as above.

  • ( UK , US ) IPA ( key ) : /ɛˈseɪ/

essay ( third-person singular simple present essays , present participle essaying , simple past and past participle essayed )

  • 1900 , Charles W. Chesnutt , chapter II, in The House Behind the Cedars : He retraced his steps to the front gate, which he essayed to open.
  • 1950 April, R. A. H. Weight, “They Passed by My Window”, in Railway Magazine , page 260 : The train took the slow to branch spur at the north end at a not much slower speed, then essayed the short sharply curved climb with a terrific roar, smoke rising straight from the chimney to a height of some 60 ft., the long train twisting and curling behind.
  • 2023 October 12, HarryBlank, “Fire in the Hole”, in SCP Foundation ‎ [2] , archived from the original on 22 May 2024 : There was the counter, there was the bulletin board, above her the dull sound of music being played over headphones. Something jaunty. She liked the beat. Then the sound of a chair being pushed back, and someone humming as they walked away from her, and she darted up to plunge the bayonet into their kidneys from behind. A followup stroke through the back of the neck, and the second soldier was down. She didn't even stop to see if it was a man or a woman, young or old. There were further hurdles to essay before she reached her destination.
  • ( intransitive ) To move forth, as into battle.
  • Sayes , Seays , Sesay , eyass

Borrowed from English essay ( “ essay ” ) , from Middle French essai ( “ essay; attempt, assay ” ) , from Old French essai , from Latin exagium (whence the neuter gender).

  • IPA ( key ) : /ɛˈseː/ , /ˈɛ.seː/
  • Hyphenation: es‧say
  • Rhymes: -eː

essay   n ( plural essays , diminutive essaytje   n )

Descendants

Norwegian bokmål.

Borrowed from English essay , from Middle French essai .

essay   n ( definite singular essayet , indefinite plural essay or essayer , definite plural essaya or essayene )

  • an essay , a written composition of moderate length exploring a particular subject
  • essaysamling
  • “essay” in The Bokmål Dictionary .

Norwegian Nynorsk

essay   n ( definite singular essayet , indefinite plural essay , definite plural essaya )

  • “essay” in The Nynorsk Dictionary .

essay dictionary origin

  • English terms derived from Proto-Indo-European
  • English terms derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *h₂eǵ-
  • English terms borrowed from Middle French
  • English terms derived from Middle French
  • English terms derived from Old French
  • English terms derived from Latin
  • English 2-syllable words
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  • Rhymes:English/ɛseɪ/2 syllables
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  • Rhymes:Dutch/eː
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  • Norwegian Bokmål terms derived from English
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  • Norwegian Bokmål nouns
  • Norwegian Bokmål neuter nouns
  • Norwegian Nynorsk terms borrowed from English
  • Norwegian Nynorsk terms derived from English
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[ noun es -ey es -ey , e- sey verb e- sey ]

  • a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretative.

a picture essay.

  • an effort to perform or accomplish something; attempt.
  • Philately. a design for a proposed stamp differing in any way from the design of the stamp as issued.
  • Obsolete. a tentative effort; trial; assay.

verb (used with object)

  • to try; attempt.
  • to put to the test; make trial of.
  • a short literary composition dealing with a subject analytically or speculatively
  • an attempt or endeavour; effort
  • a test or trial
  • to attempt or endeavour; try
  • to test or try out
  • A short piece of writing on one subject, usually presenting the author's own views. Michel de Montaigne , Francis Bacon (see also Bacon ), and Ralph Waldo Emerson are celebrated for their essays.

Discover More

Other words from.

  • es·sayer noun
  • prees·say verb (used without object)
  • unes·sayed adjective
  • well-es·sayed adjective

Word History and Origins

Origin of essay 1

Example Sentences

As several of my colleagues commented, the result is good enough that it could pass for an essay written by a first-year undergraduate, and even get a pretty decent grade.

GPT-3 also raises concerns about the future of essay writing in the education system.

This little essay helps focus on self-knowledge in what you’re best at, and how you should prioritize your time.

As Steven Feldstein argues in the opening essay, technonationalism plays a part in the strengthening of other autocracies too.

He’s written a collection of essays on civil engineering life titled Bridginess, and to this day he and Lauren go on “bridge dates,” where they enjoy a meal and admire the view of a nearby span.

I think a certain kind of compelling essay has a piece of that.

The current attack on the Jews,” he wrote in a 1937 essay, “targets not just this people of 15 million but mankind as such.

The impulse to interpret seems to me what makes personal essay writing compelling.

To be honest, I think a lot of good essay writing comes out of that.

Someone recently sent me an old Joan Didion essay on self-respect that appeared in Vogue.

There is more of the uplifted forefinger and the reiterated point than I should have allowed myself in an essay.

Consequently he was able to turn in a clear essay upon the subject, which, upon examination, the king found to be free from error.

It is no part of the present essay to attempt to detail the particulars of a code of social legislation.

But angels and ministers of grace defend us from ministers of religion who essay art criticism!

It is fit that the imagination, which is free to go through all things, should essay such excursions.

Related Words

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  • essay (noun)
  • essay (verb)
  • Your assignment is to write a 500-word essay on one of Shakespeare's sonnets.
  • The book is a collection of his previously unpublished essays on/about a variety of topics.
  • He at first essayed [= tried , attempted ] a career as a writer.
  • There is no hint as to which of the approaches essayed in this book will prove most useful.
  • He essayed [= tried , attempted ] to restore an emphasis on classical languages.
with the hands on the hips and the elbows turned outward
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Other forms: essays; essayed; essaying

A composition that is usually short and has a literary theme is called an essay . You should probably start writing your essay on "To Kill a Mockingbird" sometime before the bus ride to school the day it is due.

As a noun, an essay is also an attempt, especially a tentative initial one. Your essay to make friends at your new school would probably work better if you actually spoke to other students. As a verb, to essay is to make an attempt. If you essay to run for student council, you might lose to the girl who promises more recess, longer lunches, and less homework.

  • noun an analytic or interpretive literary composition see more see less types: show 5 types... hide 5 types... composition , paper , report , theme an essay (especially one written as an assignment) disquisition an elaborate analytical or explanatory essay or discussion memoir an essay on a scientific or scholarly topic thanatopsis an essay expressing a view on the subject of death term paper a composition intended to indicate a student's progress during a school term type of: piece of writing , writing , written material the work of a writer; anything expressed in letters of the alphabet (especially when considered from the point of view of style and effect)
  • verb make an effort or attempt “The infant had essayed a few wobbly steps” synonyms: assay , attempt , seek , try see more see less types: show 17 types... hide 17 types... pick up the gauntlet , take a dare be dared to do something and attempt it fight , struggle make a strenuous or labored effort give it a try , have a go make an attempt at something grope search blindly or uncertainly endeavor , endeavour , strive attempt by employing effort give it a try , give it a whirl try adventure , chance , gamble , hazard , risk , run a risk , take a chance , take chances take a risk in the hope of a favorable outcome lay on the line , put on the line , risk expose to a chance of loss or damage strive , struggle exert strenuous effort against opposition drive , labor , labour , push , tug strive and make an effort to reach a goal flounder behave awkwardly; have difficulties be at pains , take pains try very hard to do something buck to strive with determination go for broke risk everything in one big effort luck it , luck through act by relying on one's luck adventure , hazard , jeopardize , stake , venture put at risk bell the cat take a risk; perform a daring act type of: act , move perform an action, or work out or perform (an action)
  • noun a tentative attempt see more see less type of: attempt , effort , endeavor , endeavour , try earnest and conscientious activity intended to do or accomplish something
  • verb put to the test, as for its quality, or give experimental use to synonyms: examine , prove , test , try , try out see more see less types: control , verify check or regulate (a scientific experiment) by conducting a parallel experiment or comparing with another standard float circulate or discuss tentatively; test the waters with field-test test something under the conditions under which it will actually be used type of: evaluate , judge , pass judgment form a critical opinion of

Vocabulary lists containing essay

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What Are the Different Types and Characteristics of Essays?

  • An Introduction to Punctuation
  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

The term essay comes from the French for "trial" or "attempt." French author Michel de Montaigne coined the term when he assigned the title Essais to his first publication in 1580. In "Montaigne: A Biography" (1984), Donald Frame notes that Montaigne "often used the verb essayer (in modern French, normally to try ) in ways close to his project, related to experience, with the sense of trying out or testing."

An essay is a short work of nonfiction , while a writer of essays is called an essayist. In writing instruction, essay is often used as another word for composition . In an essay, an authorial voice  (or narrator ) typically invites an implied reader  (the audience ) to accept as authentic a certain textual mode of experience. 

Definitions and Observations

  • "[An essay is a] composition , usually in prose .., which may be of only a few hundred words (like Bacon's "Essays") or of book length (like Locke's "Essay Concerning Human Understanding") and which discusses, formally or informally, a topic or a variety of topics." (J.A. Cuddon, "Dictionary of Literary Terms". Basil, 1991)
  • " Essays are how we speak to one another in print — caroming thoughts not merely in order to convey a certain packet of information, but with a special edge or bounce of personal character in a kind of public letter." (Edward Hoagland, Introduction, "The Best American Essays : 1999". Houghton, 1999)
  • "[T]he essay traffics in fact and tells the truth, yet it seems to feel free to enliven, to shape, to embellish, to make use as necessary of elements of the imaginative and the fictive — thus its inclusion in that rather unfortunate current designation ' creative nonfiction .'" (G. Douglas Atkins, "Reading Essays: An Invitation". University of Georgia Press, 2007)

Montaigne's Autobiographical Essays "Although Michel de Montaigne, who fathered the modern essay in the 16th century, wrote autobiographically (like the essayists who claim to be his followers today), his autobiography was always in the service of larger existential discoveries. He was forever on the lookout for life lessons. If he recounted the sauces he had for dinner and the stones that weighted his kidney, it was to find an element of truth that we could put in our pockets and carry away, that he could put in his own pocket. After all, Philosophy — which is what he thought he practiced in his essays, as had his idols, Seneca and Cicero, before him — is about 'learning to live.' And here lies the problem with essayists today: not that they speak of themselves, but that they do so with no effort to make their experience relevant or useful to anyone else, with no effort to extract from it any generalizable insight into the human condition." (Cristina Nehring, "What’s Wrong With the American Essay." Truthdig, Nov. 29, 2007)

The Artful Formlessness of the Essay "[G]ood essays are works of literary art. Their supposed formlessness is more a strategy to disarm the reader with the appearance of unstudied spontaneity than a reality of composition. . . . "The essay form as a whole has long been associated with an experimental method. This idea goes back to Montaigne and his endlessly suggestive use of the term essai for his writing. To essay is to attempt, to test, to make a run at something without knowing whether you are going to succeed. The experimental association also derives from the other fountain-head of the essay, Francis Bacon , and his stress on the empirical inductive method, so useful in the development of the social sciences." (Phillip Lopate, "The Art of the Personal Essay". Anchor, 1994)

Articles vs. Essays "[W]hat finally distinguishes an essay from an article may just be the author's gumption, the extent to which personal voice, vision, and style are the prime movers and shapers, even though the authorial 'I' may be only a remote energy, nowhere visible but everywhere present." (Justin Kaplan, ed. "The Best American Essays: 1990". Ticknor & Fields, 1990) "I am predisposed to the essay with knowledge to impart — but, unlike journalism, which exists primarily to present facts, the essays transcend their data, or transmute it into personal meaning. The memorable essay, unlike the article, is not place or time-bound; it survives the occasion of its original composition. Indeed, in the most brilliant essays, language is not merely the medium of communication ; it is communication." (Joyce Carol Oates, quoted by Robert Atwan in "The Best American Essays, College Edition", 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin, 1998) "I speak of a 'genuine' essay because fakes abound. Here the old-fashioned term poetaster may apply, if only obliquely. As the poetaster is to the poet — a lesser aspirant — so the average article is to the essay: a look-alike knockoff guaranteed not to wear well. An article is often gossip. An essay is reflection and insight. An article often has the temporary advantage of social heat — what's hot out there right now. An essay's heat is interior. An article can be timely, topical, engaged in the issues and personalities of the moment; it is likely to be stale within the month. In five years it may have acquired the quaint aura of a rotary phone. An article is usually Siamese-twinned to its date of birth. An essay defies its date of birth — and ours, too. (A necessary caveat: some genuine essays are popularly called 'articles' — but this is no more than an idle, though persistent, habit of speech. What's in a name? The ephemeral is the ephemeral. The enduring is the enduring.)" (Cynthia Ozick, "SHE: Portrait of the Essay as a Warm Body." The Atlantic Monthly, September 1998)

The Status of the Essay "Though the essay has been a popular form of writing in British and American periodicals since the 18th century, until recently its status in the literary canon has been, at best, uncertain. Relegated to the composition class, frequently dismissed as mere journalism, and generally ignored as an object for serious academic study, the essay has sat, in James Thurber's phrase, ' on the edge of the chair of Literature.' "In recent years, however, prompted by both a renewed interest in rhetoric and by poststructuralist redefinitions of literature itself, the essay — as well as such related forms of 'literary nonfiction' as biography , autobiography , and travel and nature writing — has begun to attract increasing critical attention and respect." (Richard Nordquist, "Essay," in "Encylopedia of American Literature", ed. S. R. Serafin. Continuum, 1999)

The Contemporary Essay "At present, the American magazine essay , both the long feature piece and the critical essay, is flourishing, in unlikely circumstances... "There are plenty of reasons for this. One is that magazines, big and small, are taking over some of the cultural and literary ground vacated by newspapers in their seemingly unstoppable evaporation. Another is that the contemporary essay has for some time now been gaining energy as an escape from, or rival to, the perceived conservatism of much mainstream fiction... "So the contemporary essay is often to be seen engaged in acts of apparent anti-novelization: in place of plot , there is drift or the fracture of numbered paragraphs; in place of a frozen verisimilitude, there may be a sly and knowing movement between reality and fictionality; in place of the impersonal author of standard-issue third-person realism, the authorial self pops in and out of the picture, with a liberty hard to pull off in fiction." (James Wood, "Reality Effects." The New Yorker, Dec. 19 & 26, 2011)

The Lighter Side of Essays: "The Breakfast Club" Essay Assignment "All right people, we're going to try something a little different today. We are going to write an essay of not less than a thousand words describing to me who you think you are. And when I say 'essay,' I mean 'essay,' not one word repeated a thousand times. Is that clear, Mr. Bender?" (Paul Gleason as Mr. Vernon) Saturday, March 24, 1984 Shermer High School Shermer, Illinois 60062 Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us — in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at seven o'clock this morning. We were brainwashed... But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club (Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson, "The Breakfast Club", 1985)

  • The Essay: History and Definition
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Definition of essay noun from the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary

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  • 3 essay (in something) ( formal ) an attempt to do something His first essay in politics was a complete disaster.

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10.6 Definition

Learning objectives.

  • Determine the purpose and structure of the definition essay.
  • Understand how to write a definition essay.

The Purpose of Definition in Writing

The purpose of a definition essay may seem self-explanatory: the purpose of the definition essay is to simply define something. But defining terms in writing is often more complicated than just consulting a dictionary. In fact, the way we define terms can have far-reaching consequences for individuals as well as collective groups.

Take, for example, a word like alcoholism . The way in which one defines alcoholism depends on its legal, moral, and medical contexts. Lawyers may define alcoholism in terms of its legality; parents may define alcoholism in terms of its morality; and doctors will define alcoholism in terms of symptoms and diagnostic criteria. Think also of terms that people tend to debate in our broader culture. How we define words, such as marriage and climate change , has enormous impact on policy decisions and even on daily decisions. Think about conversations couples may have in which words like commitment , respect , or love need clarification.

Defining terms within a relationship, or any other context, can at first be difficult, but once a definition is established between two people or a group of people, it is easier to have productive dialogues. Definitions, then, establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse, which is why they are so important.

When writing definition essays, avoid terms that are too simple, that lack complexity. Think in terms of concepts, such as hero , immigration , or loyalty , rather than physical objects. Definitions of concepts, rather than objects, are often fluid and contentious, making for a more effective definition essay.

Writing at Work

Definitions play a critical role in all workplace environments. Take the term sexual harassment , for example. Sexual harassment is broadly defined on the federal level, but each company may have additional criteria that define it further. Knowing how your workplace defines and treats all sexual harassment allegations is important. Think, too, about how your company defines lateness , productivity , or contributions .

On a separate sheet of paper, write about a time in your own life in which the definition of a word, or the lack of a definition, caused an argument. Your term could be something as simple as the category of an all-star in sports or how to define a good movie. Or it could be something with higher stakes and wider impact, such as a political argument. Explain how the conversation began, how the argument hinged on the definition of the word, and how the incident was finally resolved.

Collaboration

Please share with a classmate and compare your responses.

The Structure of a Definition Essay

The definition essay opens with a general discussion of the term to be defined. You then state as your thesis your definition of the term.

The rest of the essay should explain the rationale for your definition. Remember that a dictionary’s definition is limiting, and you should not rely strictly on the dictionary entry. Instead, consider the context in which you are using the word. Context identifies the circumstances, conditions, or setting in which something exists or occurs. Often words take on different meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example, the ideal leader in a battlefield setting could likely be very different than a leader in an elementary school setting. If a context is missing from the essay, the essay may be too short or the main points could be confusing or misunderstood.

The remainder of the essay should explain different aspects of the term’s definition. For example, if you were defining a good leader in an elementary classroom setting, you might define such a leader according to personality traits: patience, consistency, and flexibility. Each attribute would be explained in its own paragraph.

For definition essays, try to think of concepts that you have a personal stake in. You are more likely to write a more engaging definition essay if you are writing about an idea that has personal value and importance.

It is a good idea to occasionally assess your role in the workplace. You can do this through the process of definition. Identify your role at work by defining not only the routine tasks but also those gray areas where your responsibilities might overlap with those of others. Coming up with a clear definition of roles and responsibilities can add value to your résumé and even increase productivity in the workplace.

On a separate sheet of paper, define each of the following items in your own terms. If you can, establish a context for your definition.

  • Consumer culture

Writing a Definition Essay

Choose a topic that will be complex enough to be discussed at length. Choosing a word or phrase of personal relevance often leads to a more interesting and engaging essay.

After you have chosen your word or phrase, start your essay with an introduction that establishes the relevancy of the term in the chosen specific context. Your thesis comes at the end of the introduction, and it should clearly state your definition of the term in the specific context. Establishing a functional context from the beginning will orient readers and minimize misunderstandings.

The body paragraphs should each be dedicated to explaining a different facet of your definition. Make sure to use clear examples and strong details to illustrate your points. Your concluding paragraph should pull together all the different elements of your definition to ultimately reinforce your thesis. See Chapter 15 “Readings: Examples of Essays” to read a sample definition essay.

Create a full definition essay from one of the items you already defined in Note 10.64 “Exercise 2” . Be sure to include an interesting introduction, a clear thesis, a well-explained context, distinct body paragraphs, and a conclusion that pulls everything together.

Key Takeaways

  • Definitions establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse.
  • Context affects the meaning and usage of words.
  • The thesis of a definition essay should clearly state the writer’s definition of the term in the specific context.
  • Body paragraphs should explain the various facets of the definition stated in the thesis.
  • The conclusion should pull all the elements of the definition together at the end and reinforce the thesis.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Imperative
essay
essay
Present
I essay
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he/she/it essays
we essay
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they essay
Preterite
I essayed
you essayed
he/she/it essayed
we essayed
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Present Continuous
I am essaying
you are essaying
he/she/it is essaying
we are essaying
you are essaying
they are essaying
Present Perfect
I have essayed
you have essayed
he/she/it has essayed
we have essayed
you have essayed
they have essayed
Past Continuous
I was essaying
you were essaying
he/she/it was essaying
we were essaying
you were essaying
they were essaying
Past Perfect
I had essayed
you had essayed
he/she/it had essayed
we had essayed
you had essayed
they had essayed
Future
I will essay
you will essay
he/she/it will essay
we will essay
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Future Perfect
I will have essayed
you will have essayed
he/she/it will have essayed
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you will have essayed
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Future Continuous
I will be essaying
you will be essaying
he/she/it will be essaying
we will be essaying
you will be essaying
they will be essaying
Present Perfect Continuous
I have been essaying
you have been essaying
he/she/it has been essaying
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you have been essaying
they have been essaying
Future Perfect Continuous
I will have been essaying
you will have been essaying
he/she/it will have been essaying
we will have been essaying
you will have been essaying
they will have been essaying
Past Perfect Continuous
I had been essaying
you had been essaying
he/she/it had been essaying
we had been essaying
you had been essaying
they had been essaying
Conditional
I would essay
you would essay
he/she/it would essay
we would essay
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Past Conditional
I would have essayed
you would have essayed
he/she/it would have essayed
we would have essayed
you would have essayed
they would have essayed
- an analytic or interpretive literary composition , , - the work of a writer; anything expressed in letters of the alphabet (especially when considered from the point of view of style and effect); "the writing in her novels is excellent"; "that editorial was a fine piece of writing" , , , - an essay (especially one written as an assignment); "he got an A on his composition" - an elaborate analytical or explanatory essay or discussion - an essay on a scientific or scholarly topic - an essay expressing a view on the subject of death
- a tentative attempt , , , , - earnest and conscientious activity intended to do or accomplish something; "made an effort to cover all the reading material"; "wished him luck in his endeavor"; "she gave it a good try"
- make an effort or attempt; "He tried to shake off his fears"; "The infant had essayed a few wobbly steps"; "The police attempted to stop the thief"; "He sought to improve himself"; "She always seeks to do good in the world" , , , , - be dared to do something and attempt it , - perform an action, or work out or perform (an action); "think before you act"; "We must move quickly"; "The governor should act on the new energy bill"; "The nanny acted quickly by grabbing the toddler and covering him with a wet towel" , - make a strenuous or labored effort; "She struggled for years to survive without welfare"; "He fought for breath" , - make an attempt at something; "I never sat on a horse before but I'll give it a go" - search blindly or uncertainly; "His mind groped to make the connection" , , - attempt by employing effort; "we endeavor to make our customers happy" , - try; "let's give it a whirl!" , , , , , , , - take a risk in the hope of a favorable outcome; "When you buy these stocks you are gambling" , , - expose to a chance of loss or damage; "We risked losing a lot of money in this venture"; "Why risk your life?"; "She laid her job on the line when she told the boss that he was wrong"
- put to the test, as for its quality, or give experimental use to; "This approach has been tried with good results"; "Test this recipe" , , , , , , - form a critical opinion of; "I cannot judge some works of modern art"; "How do you evaluate this grant proposal?" "We shouldn't pass judgment on other people" , - check or regulate (a scientific experiment) by conducting a parallel experiment or comparing with another standard; "Are you controlling for the temperature?" - circulate or discuss tentatively; test the waters with; "The Republicans are floating the idea of a tax reform" - test something under the conditions under which it will actually be used; "The Army field tested the new tanks"
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Understanding the Definition and Impact of Crises in Modern Society

This essay about crises examines their significant disruptions and impacts on society. It discusses how crises, whether sudden like natural disasters or gradual like climate change, challenge the status quo, reveal societal vulnerabilities, and demand urgent responses. The text explores the economic, social, and psychological repercussions of crises, highlights their role as catalysts for change, and emphasizes the unequal effects on vulnerable populations. Additionally, it addresses the evolving perception of crises and the importance of effective governance and international cooperation in crisis management.

How it works

In the grand narrative of human history, crises serve as the threads that intricately weave through various epochs, leaving profound and lasting impacts on societies and civilizations. Broadly defined as significant disruptions that endanger the stability and functioning of communities or systems, crises manifest in multiple forms, from natural calamities to economic downturns, pandemics to political turmoil. A thorough understanding of the definition and implications of crises in contemporary society necessitates an exploration of their multifaceted nature, underlying causes, consequences, and the adaptive responses they elicit from societies.

At its essence, a crisis marks a pivotal point where the established order is disrupted, often bringing about significant consequences for individuals, communities, and institutions. These events can arise suddenly, like earthquakes or terror attacks, or develop over time, such as climate change or economic recessions. Regardless of their origin or nature, crises possess common traits: they disrupt normalcy, induce uncertainty, and require immediate attention and action.

A key characteristic of crises is their tendency to expose and intensify existing vulnerabilities within societies. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted global disparities in healthcare access and socioeconomic inequalities, disproportionately affecting marginalized groups. Similarly, economic crises often uncover structural flaws in financial systems or governance, leading to unemployment, poverty, and social unrest. In such times, the impact of crises extends beyond immediate material losses to encompass deeper social, psychological, and political consequences.

The repercussions of crises permeate all aspects of society. Economically, they can cause market instability, business closures, and job losses, exacerbating inequalities and reshaping economic landscapes for years. Socially, crises can strain community cohesion, increase interpersonal tensions, and challenge trust in institutions. Psychologically, individuals may experience heightened stress, anxiety, or trauma, especially during prolonged or recurring crises such as armed conflicts or environmental disasters.

Furthermore, crises often act as catalysts for change, prompting societies to reassess priorities, innovate solutions, and adopt new practices. The aftermath of crises can foster resilience as communities rebuild infrastructure, strengthen social safety nets, and implement policies to prevent future catastrophes. Innovations born from crisis-driven necessity, such as medical advancements during pandemics or technological breakthroughs following natural disasters, showcase humanity’s ability to adapt and evolve in the face of adversity.

However, the impact of crises is not evenly distributed. Vulnerable populations, including low-income groups, racial minorities, and marginalized communities, frequently bear the brunt of crises due to preexisting disadvantages and systemic inequalities. Addressing these disparities requires proactive measures to ensure equitable access to resources, services, and opportunities both during and after crises.

The definition and perception of crises also shift with societal norms and values. What was once viewed as a natural disaster may now be understood through the lens of climate change, leading to calls for sustainable practices and environmental stewardship. Similarly, advances in technology and communication have transformed how societies prepare for and respond to crises, facilitating faster dissemination of information, remote work capabilities, and virtual collaboration during emergencies.

In the realm of governance, crises challenge the effectiveness of policies, leadership, and institutional resilience. Successful crisis management depends on preparedness, coordination, and the ability to make timely, informed decisions under pressure. Failures in crisis response can erode public trust and have enduring repercussions on political stability and legitimacy.

Moreover, the interconnectedness of the modern world means that crises rarely remain confined to one locale. A financial downturn in one region can trigger a global economic recession. A disease outbreak can spread rapidly across continents, transcending borders and necessitating international cooperation. Addressing these transnational challenges requires collective action, diplomatic engagement, and solidarity among nations.

In summary, crises are integral to the human experience, profoundly shaping societies and individuals. They test resilience, expose vulnerabilities, and drive change. Understanding the definition and impact of crises in modern society requires a comprehensive approach, considering social, economic, political, and environmental dimensions. By learning from past experiences, fostering resilience, and promoting equity, societies can mitigate the effects of crises and build a more sustainable future. As history unfolds, the lessons of past crises serve as beacons of wisdom, guiding humanity towards greater preparedness, compassion, and collective resilience in the face of adversity.

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COMMENTS

  1. essay

    essay. (n.). 1590s, "trial, attempt, endeavor," also "short, discursive literary composition" (first attested in writings of Francis Bacon, probably in imitation of Montaigne), from French essai "trial, attempt, essay" (in Old French from 12c.), from Late Latin exagium "a weighing, a weight," from Latin exigere "drive out; require, exact; examine, try, test," from ex "out" (see ex-) + agere ...

  2. Essay Definition & Meaning

    The meaning of ESSAY is an analytic or interpretative literary composition usually dealing with its subject from a limited or personal point of view. How to use essay in a sentence. Synonym Discussion of Essay.

  3. Etymonline

    The online etymology dictionary (etymonline) is the internet's go-to source for quick and reliable accounts of the origin and history of English words, phrases, and idioms. It is professional enough to satisfy academic standards, but accessible enough to be used by anyone.

  4. essay, n. meanings, etymology and more

    There are 12 meanings listed in OED's entry for the noun essay, nine of which are labelled obsolete. See 'Meaning & use' for definitions, usage, and quotation evidence. essay has developed meanings and uses in subjects including. literature (late 1500s) animals (early 1600s) hunting (early 1600s) military (mid 1600s) metal industry (mid 1600s)

  5. Essay

    Definitions John Locke's 1690 An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer, "to try" or "to attempt".In English essay first meant "a trial" or "an attempt", and this is still an alternative meaning. The Frenchman Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) was the first author to describe his work as essays; he used the term to characterize these as ...

  6. ESSAY

    ESSAY definition: 1. a short piece of writing on a particular subject, especially one done by students as part of the…. Learn more.

  7. essay

    essay (plural essays) (authorship) A written composition of moderate length, exploring a particular issue or subject. 2013 January, Katie L. Burke, "Ecological Dependency", in American Scientist ‎ [1], volume 101, number 1, archived from the original on 9 February 2017, page 64: In his first book since the 2008 essay collection Natural ...

  8. The Essay: History and Definition

    Meaning. In the broadest sense, the term "essay" can refer to just about any short piece of nonfiction -- an editorial, feature story, critical study, even an excerpt from a book. However, literary definitions of a genre are usually a bit fussier. One way to start is to draw a distinction between articles, which are read primarily for the ...

  9. Essay

    essay, an analytic, interpretative, or critical literary composition usually much shorter and less systematic and formal than a dissertation or thesis and usually dealing with its subject from a limited and often personal point of view. Some early treatises—such as those of Cicero on the pleasantness of old age or on the art of "divination ...

  10. ESSAY

    ESSAY meaning: 1. a short piece of writing on a particular subject, especially one done by students as part of the…. Learn more.

  11. essay noun

    Definition of essay noun in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Meaning, pronunciation, picture, example sentences, grammar, usage notes, synonyms and more. Toggle navigation. Redeem Upgrade Help. ... Word Origin late 15th cent. (as a verb in the sense 'test the quality of'): ...

  12. ESSAY Definition & Meaning

    Essay definition: a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretative.. See examples of ESSAY used in a sentence.

  13. Essay Definition & Meaning

    1 essay / ˈ ɛˌseɪ/ noun. plural essays. Britannica Dictionary definition of ESSAY. [count] : a short piece of writing that tells a person's thoughts or opinions about a subject. Your assignment is to write a 500-word essay on one of Shakespeare's sonnets. The book is a collection of his previously unpublished essays on/about a variety of ...

  14. Essay

    A composition that is usually short and has a literary theme is called an essay. You should probably start writing your essay on "To Kill a Mockingbird" sometime before the bus ride to school the day it is due.

  15. ESSAY

    ESSAY definition: a short piece of writing about a particular subject, especially one written by a student: . Learn more.

  16. Definition and Examples of Essays or Compositions

    "[An essay is a] composition, usually in prose.., which may be of only a few hundred words (like Bacon's "Essays") or of book length (like Locke's "Essay Concerning Human Understanding") and which discusses, formally or informally, a topic or a variety of topics." (J.A. Cuddon, "Dictionary of Literary Terms". Basil, 1991) "Essays are how we speak to one another in print — caroming thoughts ...

  17. essay noun

    Definition of essay noun in Oxford Advanced American Dictionary. Meaning, pronunciation, picture, example sentences, grammar, usage notes, synonyms and more.

  18. ESSAY definition in American English

    essay in American English. (noun for 1, 2 ˈesei, for 3-5 ˈesei, eˈsei, verb eˈsei) noun. 1. a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretative. 2. anything resembling such a composition. a picture essay.

  19. Essay Definition & Meaning

    Essay definition: A testing or trial of the value or nature of a thing.

  20. 10.6 Definition

    Definitions establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse. Context affects the meaning and usage of words. The thesis of a definition essay should clearly state the writer's definition of the term in the specific context. Body paragraphs should explain the various facets of the definition ...

  21. Essay

    Define essay. essay synonyms, essay pronunciation, essay translation, English dictionary definition of essay. try; subject to a test; a short literary composition: She wrote an essay for her final exam.

  22. ESSAY definition and meaning

    essay in British English. noun (ˈɛseɪ , for senses 2, 3 also ɛˈseɪ ) 1. a short literary composition dealing with a subject analytically or speculatively. 2. an attempt or endeavour; effort. 3. a test or trial.

  23. Understanding the Definition and Impact of Crises in Modern Society

    Essay Example: In the grand narrative of human history, crises serve as the threads that intricately weave through various epochs, leaving profound and lasting impacts on societies and civilizations. Broadly defined as significant disruptions that endanger the stability and functioning of communities.

  24. ESSAY

    ESSAY meaning: a short piece of writing about a particular subject, especially one written by a student: . Learn more.

  25. Cambridge English Dictionary: Definitions & Meanings

    The most popular dictionary and thesaurus. Definitions & meanings of words in English with examples, synonyms, pronunciations and translations.