A definition is a statement that explains the meaning of a term (a word, phrase, or other set of symbols). The term to be defined is the definiendum. A term may have many different senses or meanings. For each such specific sense, a definiens is a cluster of words that defines that term with reference to the speaker's immediate intended meaning.
For example, in formal languages like mathematics, a "stipulative" definition guides a specific discussion. A stipulative definition can only be disproved by showing a logical contradiction. But a "descriptive" definition can be shown to be "right" or "wrong" with reference to general usage.
A chief difficulty in the management of definitions is the necessity of using other terms that are already understood or whose definitions are easily obtainable. The use of the term in a simple example may suffice. A dictionary definition typically contains additional details, such an etymology, obsolete meanings, and the language or languages of its origin.
A precising definition extends the descriptive dictionary definition (lexical definition) of a term for a specific purpose by including additional criteria, which narrow the set of things that meet the definition.
C.L. Stevenson has identified persuasive definition as a form of stipulative definition which purports to state the "true" or "commonly accepted" meaning of a term, while in reality stipulating an altered use (perhaps as an argument for some specific belief). Stevenson has also noted that some definitions are "legal" or "coercive" — their object is to create or alter rights, duties, or crimes.
Famous quotes containing the word definition:
“It is very hard to give a just definition of love. The most we can say of it is this: that in the soul, it is a desire to rule; in the spirit, it is a sympathy; and in the body, it is but a hidden and subtle desire to possessafter many mysterieswhat one loves.”
—François, Duc De La Rochefoucauld (16131680)
“Beauty, like all other qualities presented to human experience, is relative; and the definition of it becomes unmeaning and useless in proportion to its abstractness. To define beauty not in the most abstract, but in the most concrete terms possible, not to find a universal formula for it, but the formula which expresses most adequately this or that special manifestation of it, is the aim of the true student of aesthetics.”
—Walter Pater (18391894)
“Its a rare parent who can see his or her child clearly and objectively. At a school board meeting I attended . . . the only definition of a gifted child on which everyone in the audience could agree was mine.”
—Jane Adams (20th century)