1. the outline of a figure or body; the edge or line that defines or bounds a shape or object.
  2. contour line.
  3. Phonetics. a distinctive pattern of changes in pitch, stress, or tone extending across all or part of an utterance, especially across a sentence, and contributing to meaning.

verb (used with object)

  1. to mark with contour lines.
  2. to make or form the contour or outline of.
  3. to build (a road, railroad track, etc.) in conformity with the contour of the land.
  4. to mold or shape so as to fit a certain configuration: cars with seats that are contoured for comfort.


  1. molded or shaped to fit a particular contour or form: contour seats.
  2. 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.


  1. the outline of a mass of land, figure, or body; a defining line
    1. See contour line
    2. (as modifier)a contour map
  2. (often plural) the shape or surface, esp of a curving formthe contours of her body were full and round
  3. (modifier) shaped to fit the form of somethinga contour chair
  4. a rising and falling variation pattern, as in music and intonation

verb (tr)

  1. to shape so as to form the contour of something
  2. to mark contour lines on
  3. to construct (a road, railway, etc) to follow the outline of the land

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.

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