How to Write Definition Essay and Examples

Last Updated: April 27, 2024

How to Write Definition Essay and Examples

It’s that time again when you’re tasked to write another essay. It is a time consuming task but it is also fulfilling especially when you have completely discussed your topic logically. However, there are various types of essays. It can be a satire essay, analytical essay, persuasive essay and so much more. But one the most common types of essay is the definition essay.

What is a definition essay? And how is it any different from the other types of essay? So now, we’ll discuss about definition essay and learn a few tips to write an effective definition essay.

What is a Definition Essay?

Let’s start with the etymology of define. Define (v.) from Old French defenir, definir “to finish, conclude, come to an end; bring to an end; define, determine with precision,” and directly from Latin definire “to limit, determine, explain,” from de- “completely” + finire “to bound, limit,” from finis “boundary, end.”

With the etymology of define in mind, definition is a statement of the exact meaning of the word, it is the act of making something definite, clear and distinct. Definition essay is a type of essay that thoroughly explains what a term means. Defined terms can be concrete or abstract. Concrete terms have definite meanings such as table, book, glass; while abstract terms can be like love, loyalty, faithfulness, etc. You may also see Steps in Writing an Analytical Essay

A definition and descriptive essay are two different types of essay. A definition essay focuses on the exact meaning of the given term while a descriptive essay intends to describe or vividly depict a part of the term or story.

Building Blocks in Writing Definition Essay

  • State the term you mean to define – make sure your readers clearly understand the term you are defining in your essay.
  • Present data – present the information that directly supports your definition.
  • Use facts, examples, statistics, quotes that are easily understood – these are supporting details that help make your essay become factual and credible. Also see How to Outline an Essay

How to Write a Definition Essay

1. Choose the right word

Choose the word that is disputable or it means different things to different people. This would give you an alley to discuss the more unexplored depth of the word. It would be wise to use an abstract or complex term. A concrete term will give you less to write about. Unlike concrete term, an abstract term will give more concepts to explore. Although you are using an abstract term, make sure it a familiar term for you and your readers. It is best to know something about the term you yet to define so it will be easier for you to efficiently elaborate on the subject. You may also see short essays.

2. Choose an element of defining

There are many ways to define the main term of your essay. Here are a few options (based on St. Cloud State University):

  • Analysis: Divide the term into its components and separately define each part.
  • Classification:  What classes does the term belong to? Compare the term to other members of the class it belongs to.
  • Comparison: Simply put, explaining what the term is not.
  • Details: The distinguishing attribute that best describes the main term.
  • Examples and Incidents: Provide illustrations that can clarify a group, theory, or hypothesis.
  • Negation: To clarify the ground for what it is, state what it truly is about.
  • Origins and Causes: The history and background information of the main term.
  • Results, Effects, and Uses: Discuss the consequences and uses of the term.

3. Use understandable data

Choose examples, anecdotes, facts, statistics that your target audience will be able to easily understand. Use the gathered data you think might best explain the term to your readers. Pick familiar words to help explain and define the meaning. Although you are using easily understood data, always choose what is relevant to the term. Remember not all of the synonym of the term you are defining directly translate to the main term. You may also see essay writings.

Definition Essay Structure

Sample Structure from Charleston Southern University

I. Introduction: Start broadly and end narrowly. Introductions aim to introduce the topic without giving too much away in the beginning. They end narrowly by concluding with the thesis statements, which is a preview for the rest of the paper. You may also see parts of an essay.

A. Thesis Statement: Friendship is shaped by trust, love, and fun times.

II. Body Paragraph One: Trust

A. In this paragraph, talk about what trust is and how it defines what friendship is.

III. Body Paragraph Two: Love

A. In this paragraph, talk about what love is and how it defines what friendship is.

IV. Body Paragraph Three: Fun Times.

A. In this paragraph, talk about what fun times are and how it defines what friendship is.

V. Conclusion: Connect your individual ideas back to the overarching argument

Definition Essay Examples

Sample 1 (from St. Cloud State University)

What is This Thing Called Love?

A wise man once said that love is a wonderful thing. Although this statement leaves sparse room for argument, it does little to define what love is beyond the vague realm of wonderful. It is my duty as a devout romantic to embark upon the seemingly difficult task of defining love by looking at the history, explaining what love is not, and examining the uses of love and the results of that usage.You may also see essay writings.

(Origin and Causes)

The origin of the word is probably the most logical place to start. As with many words in the English language, love is a derivative of the Latin word “cause majora problemus” which means “You’re miserable when you got it and miserable when you don’t.” The word was created to explain the biological phenomenon that existed when certain individuals came into contact with each other and either remained together or went about their lives separately. Regardless of the outcome, the relationship was usually characteristic of throat lumps, knotted stomachs, weak knees, temporary loss of language, sweaty palms, dizziness, sneezing, and occasional nausea. Belligerent insanity also resulted. History clearly illustrates this. Can we ever forget the face that launched a thousand ships? Federally expressing Van Gogh’s ear? The construction of Le Tour Eiffel? All of these were results of love and love lost. You may also see free essays.


Star-crossed lovers have stated that love is not hand nor foot nor any part belonging to a man. Matrimonial ceremonies also claim that love is not jealous or boastful. Let it be stated here that love also is not a gourmet dish, a domesticated animal, or a latest trend. Love is not a strategic defense mechanism nor the best kept secret at the Pentagon. Love is not another seasoning to bottle and stick on the dust-lined shelves of the spice rack. Love is not to be confused with adhesive tape.Instead, love is a great counterpart to late, evening thunder storms on hot July nights. Love goes well with cold pizza on picnic blankets. Love is cold, wet sand between bare toes. Love is a capitalistic sell-all for novels, Top-40 pop songs, summer movies, and greeting cards.In its simplest terms, love is a four-letter word. Much like other words of similar letter make up, when expressed it can evoke laughter, pleasure, pain, anger, and virtually any wave of reaction. Love also can be confused with feelings of indigestion and gas. Houses have been built, burned, and banished because of love. You may also see analytical essay.

Sample 2


by Chisako Hayakawa

Ishindenshin is a common Japanese word. It describes a Japanese concept used to refer to communication without words or a “reading of the heart.” We Japanese do not always say exactly what we think or feel. People can guess and receive what is in a sender’s heart. People can understand each other without words. This is not a familiar concept in western cultures, where people are generally encouraged to state exactly what they mean. The phenomenon of ishindenshin works well when Japanese are communicating in Japan, but it can present certain challenges when Japanese are communicating outside of their country.You may also see high school essay.

Ishindenshin was born as a Buddhist word. The story goes that when Buddha preached to a lot of disciples about Buddhism, it was too hard to express the depth of the religion in words, so he showed them a lotus flower to communicate a point. Although most of his disciples could not understand what he meant, there was one who could understand. After that, Buddha preached his teachings only to the enlightened disciple instead of to many disciples.

There are many ways that Japanese demonstrate ishindenshin in their daily lives. For example, when people ride on a bus, they stand up and give their seats to someone who is old or has a physical disability. Ishindenshin works especially well in situations like this where people do not know one another. It is like telepathy because people do not say anything. In Japanese culture, we seldom say negative words to other people because we are observant about hurting someone, but non-verbal communication will often get a negative point across. For example, my mother often has a sore shoulder. When she does, she shakes her head a takes a few deep breaths. At this point, all of us in the family know what she wants us to do, so she gets a massage. You may also see self introduction essay.

Ishindenshin is a very useful concept. Understanding each other without explaining feelings is a convenient tool in communication. However, at the same time, it does sometimes cause misunderstandings. When I came to the United States the first time when I was 13, an American family welcomed me into their home as a family member. When I felt hungry and wanted to get something to eat, I expressed my feelings with the words, “I am beginning to get hungry,” but my host mother did not give me anything to eat. I felt so strange. Even though my English was not good, I knew that I had said the words clearly. I thought that she was so mean and did not want to give me any food, especially when my host sister got snacks for her and not for me. Then I thought about whether there was something wrong with my communication and decided to ask her directly for something to eat. I learned that there was no ishindenshin in American culture, so I had to say exactly what I wanted. I realized that outside of my own country, I had to adjust my communication style. You may also see student essay.

A Japanese overseas study coordinator that I know said that Japanese students may not be as good at English as many other international students because they are accustomed to the concept of ishindenshin. He also said that it is very hard for Japanese From The Advanced Writing Handbook for ESOL by John Sparks. Used with permission. students to express every idea that they wish to communicate. There are many differences between the cultures of the U.S. and Japan; however, to know new things about other cultures is very interesting, so Japanese living in other countries need to get accustomed to talking in different ways. You may also see interview essay.

Ishindenshin has mostly good effects but can also have a few bad ones for Japanese living outside of their country. Using this telepathy too much can have unfortunate consequences, but I believe it is important to use a moderate amount. We sometimes have to use our emotional intelligence and interpret feelings without words because there are situations in all people’s lives when there are no words to express exactly how we feel. You may also see scholarship essay.

In a way, definition essays can be subjective. It requires your own input, your own understanding of the term. however subjective it can get, it still needs actual facts to support your claims. Be careful when writing a definition essay, it is easily confused with a descriptive essay. A definition essay focuses on the explanation of the main term not its description. You may also see literacy essay.

Definition essay requires lots of patience. It’s quite difficult to write since it requires a personal yet academic definition of a certain term. It requires a thorough and lengthy explanation of the definition. Remember to choose a word that gives enough points to write about with concrete supporting information to further your explanation. You may also see essay outlines.

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