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Description vs. Definition: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on December 9, 2023
Description is a representation in words of the nature and characteristics of something. Definition is a statement that explains the meaning of a word or phrase, often formally and concisely.

Key Differences

Description involves depicting or detailing the characteristics, qualities, or appearance of someone or something in words. It aims to provide a comprehensive image or impression. Conversely, a definition is a precise statement about what a word or term means, often used to clarify or specify its essence in a concise manner.
A description often employs vivid language and can include subjective interpretations to convey a deeper understanding or feeling about the subject. It can be lengthy and detailed, providing context and color. A definition, on the other hand, is usually succinct and objective, focusing on the inherent meaning or concept of a term without additional embellishment.
Description can be used in storytelling, reporting, and everyday communication to convey sensory experiences, emotions, or situations. It creates a mental picture or scenario. Definition is more commonly used in academic, legal, or technical contexts to provide clear, unambiguous explanations of terms or concepts.
In writing, a description serves to engage the reader by painting a vivid picture of the subject, using adjectives and metaphors. It's often used in creative writing. Definition is more straightforward and factual, used to inform or educate the reader about the specific meaning of a term or concept.
The purpose of a description is to give the reader a comprehensive understanding of a subject, including its context and subtleties. Definition aims to establish a clear and precise understanding of a word or term, often stripping away any ambiguity or subjective interpretation.

Comparison Chart


To depict characteristics or qualities of something
To state the meaning of a word or concept


Can be subjective and detailed
Concise and objective


Used in storytelling, reporting, everyday communication
Used in academic, legal, technical contexts


Employs vivid, sometimes emotive language
Precise, often technical language


To create a mental image or convey a sense
To clarify meaning, remove ambiguity

Description and Definition Definitions


A detailed account or explanation of an object or event.
Her description of the event included every detail from the decorations to the speeches.


The act of making something clear or understandable.
Her definition of the legal terms helped the jury understand the case.


The act of depicting something in words.
The author's description of the ancient city brought it to life.


A statement that explains the meaning of a word or term.
The dictionary provided a clear definition of 'obfuscate.'


A verbal representation of something's characteristics.
The description of the sunset was so vivid, I could almost see the colors.


The action of stating the exact meaning of a word or phrase.
The teacher asked for a definition of the term 'metaphor.'


A representation in words of a particular quality or attribute.
His description of the meal made everyone's mouth water.


An exact statement or description of the nature, scope, or meaning of something.
The legal definition of 'negligence' differs slightly from its everyday use.


The process of conveying in words what something is like.
The police asked for a description of the missing item.


A precise explanation of the nature, scope, or meaning.
The scientific definition of 'photosynthesis' describes a process in plants.


The act, process, or technique of describing.


A statement of the meaning of a word, phrase, or term, as in a dictionary entry.


A statement or an account describing something
Published a description of the journey.
Gave a vivid description of the game.


A statement or description of the fundamental character or scope of something
"[The panel] calls for a clearer definition of the status of people captured in American military operations" (Economist).


When should I use a description?

Use a description when you need to convey the characteristics or qualities of something in detail.

What is a description?

A description is a detailed account or depiction in words of someone or something.

What is a definition?

A definition is a concise statement that explains the meaning of a word or phrase.

When is a definition necessary?

A definition is necessary when clarity or precise understanding of a term or concept is needed.

Can a description be subjective?

Yes, descriptions can be subjective, reflecting the writer's perspective or feelings.

Is a definition always objective?

Definitions are typically objective, focusing on the inherent meaning of a term.

Are definitions used in legal contexts?

Yes, definitions are crucial in legal contexts for clarity and precision.

Can definitions change over time?

Yes, definitions can evolve over time as language and usage change.

Do descriptions use figurative language?

Descriptions often use figurative language to create vivid imagery or convey sensations.

Why is the accuracy of definitions important?

Accurate definitions are important for clear communication and understanding, especially in technical or academic contexts.

How detailed should a description be?

The detail in a description can vary but usually includes enough information to create a clear image or understanding.

Should descriptions be factual?

Descriptions should be as accurate as possible, though they may include subjective elements.

Can descriptions be too long?

Overly lengthy descriptions can sometimes distract or bore the reader, depending on the context.

How do dictionaries provide definitions?

Dictionaries provide concise and precise explanations of words’ meanings.

What role do descriptions play in sensory writing?

Descriptions in sensory writing help convey the experience of the senses to the reader.

Can a single word have multiple definitions?

Yes, many words have multiple meanings and thus multiple definitions.

How do descriptions enhance storytelling?

Descriptions enhance storytelling by painting vivid pictures in the reader’s mind.

Are definitions important in science?

Yes, in science, accurate definitions are crucial for understanding concepts and communicating findings.

Can a description be neutral?

Descriptions can be neutral, especially in factual reporting or academic writing.

Is a definition the same as a translation?

No, a definition explains the meaning, while a translation converts words from one language to another.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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