Difference Between Definition and Meaning

Main Difference – Definition vs Meaning

Definition and meaning are two words we use to explain the sense of a word or concept. In other words, they describe what that particular concept means. Definition is the statement of the exact meaning of a word, especially as given in a dictionary. Meaning explains a word or concept in a very general sense. This is the main difference between definition and meaning. Both meaning and definition help us to understand what is inferred by a word.

In this article, we are going to look at,

1. What is a Definition? – Definition, Scope, Categories, and Examples

2. What is a Meaning? – Definition, Explanation, Categories, and Examples

3. Key Differences Between Definition and Meaning

Difference Between Definition and Meaning - Definition vs. Meaning Comparison Summary

What is a Definition

The Oxford dictionary defines definition as “an exact statement or description of the nature, scope, or meaning of something” and the Merriam-Webster defines it as “a statement expressing the essential nature of something”. A definition is usually the meaning given in a dictionary. For example, let’s look at the definition of the word dog in the dictionary.

Dog: A domesticated carnivorous mammal that typically has a long snout, an acute sense of smell, non-retractile claws, and a barking, howling, or whining voice. (Oxford dictionary)

This definition includes the physical features as well as behavioral patterns of dogs to define the term dog. The characteristics listed here distinguish dogs from other mammals. Thus, it enables the read to understand what is implied by the word.

Definitions can be broadly categorized into two groups known as intentional definitions and extensional definitions. Intentional definitions try to give the essence of the word by specifying the necessary and sufficient conditions for an item to belong to a member of a specific set.  For example,

Bachelor: a man who is not and has never been married

Extensional definitions, on the other hand, define an item by listing every item that belongs to that particular set. For example,

The seven deadly sins: the sins of pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth

Difference Between Definition and Meaning

What is Meaning

Meaning explains what a particular word or concept implies. The Oxford Dictionary defines meaning as “what is meant by a word, text, concept, or action” and Merriam-Webster defines it as “the idea that is represented by a word, phrase, etc.” The meaning can refer to both implied and explicit significance of a word or concept.

A word may have only one definition; definitions provided by different sources may contain the same message, albeit with different wordings. However, a word might have different meanings to different individuals. There are different levels of meaning. The same word can even have contrary meanings to two readers. This happens because meaning is connected with our emotions and experience. Meaning can be basically divided into two categories known as connotation and denotation. Denotation is the surface meaning or literal meaning of a word. Connotation is the personal, emotional and cultural associations of a word.

Main Difference - Definition vs Meaning

Difference Between Definition and Meaning


Definition: Definition is a statement expressing the essential nature of something.

Meaning: Meaning is the idea that is represented by a word, phrase, etc.


Definition: A word usually has only one definition.

Meaning: A word can have different meanings.


Definition: Can be broadly categorized under two classifications; intentional definition, extensional definition.

Meaning: Can be basically divided into two categories: connotation, denotation

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About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.