Identifying Types of Definitions
When writers are trying to explain an unfamiliar idea, they rely on definitions. All definitions attempt to explain or clarify a term. This lesson will introduce you to the three different types of definitions: formal, informal, and extended.
A formal definitionThe meaning of a word that consists of three parts: the term, the part of speech to which it belongs, and all the traits or characteristics that set it apart from every other item in that class. consists of three parts: the term, the part of speech to which it belongs, such as a nounA part of speech that refers to a person, place, or thing. Examples include: swimmer, lake, sunscreen. or a verbA part of speech that refers to what is happening, the action, what the subject is doing, or how it is “being.” Examples include: sleep, to be, think., and all the traitsThe specific parts of a person, place, or thing that distinguish it from another. or characteristics that are specific to that term. The dictionary is filled with formal definitions, but it is not the only place where you will find them. Writers often include formal definitions when they are writing about something that may be unfamiliar to their readers. In textbooks, you may find the formal definition of terms listed at the beginning, at the end of a chapter, or in the glossary, which is a mini-dictionary of terms relevant to that text.
Formal definition example:
Part of speech: noun
Definition: The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
In an informal definitionThe meaning of a word that is explained using known words or examples to define an unknown term. These definitions may be synonyms or antonyms introduced by or, in other words, or like., the writer uses known words or examples to explain an unknown term. These definitions may be synonymsA word or phrase that has an identical or very similar meaning to another word. Example: tiny is a synonym for small. or antonymsA word or phrase that has the opposite meaning from another word. Example: huge is an antonym for small. introduced by or, in other words, or like.
Informal definition example:
Freedom, also referred to as liberty or independence, is a state people reach when they are free to think and do whatever they please.
Extended definitionsThe meaning of an idea or word that has components of both informal and formal definitions, but is presented in a longer, paragraph format. generally have components of both informal and formal definitions. However, as the name suggests, the author uses a number of other techniques to define a word, concept, or phraseA set of words that express an idea. A phrase may or may not form a complete sentence., including the following:
Extended definition example:
To our colonial forefathers, freedom meant having a voice in their government. (historical reference) The Revolutionary War was a last resort against an empire that continued to tax its colonists without the representation of the colonists in Parliament. Since the United States won the right to rule itself, our country has been referred to as "the land of the free and the home of the brave." (example) True freedom means the ability to think, feel, say, or act however one chooses. (listing parts) It is a state where the bars of bondage do not exist. (negation) Unfortunately, the widening gap between the haves and have nots means that some are now shackled by their lack of education. (evoke the senses: shackled) Americans can attain real freedom when everyone has the same educational opportunities.+ PRACTICAL APPLICATION
It is important for you to be able to understand new terms and ideas that you encounter both in your college and professional lives. While you may be able to understand an entire text without knowing what one or two words in the text are, you could also be easily confused. For instance, if you read an article about whaling that uses the word "moratorium" and you think that a "moratorium" is a special type of aquarium, your understanding of the entire passage will be hindered since "moratorium" actually refers to the freezing, pausing, or halting of something, in this case the practice of whaling. Imagine if you then used the word "aquarium" when you should have used "moratorium." You run the risk of embarrassment if you use it with someone who knows the actual meaning; even worse, you could pass on incorrect information to another individual who would then be equally misinformed. Both situations can be avoided when you are able to identify the correct definition.
Read the following definitions; notice whether each one is a formal, informal, or extended definition. The term being defined appears as bold.
Read the following definitions, then identify whether each one is a formal, informal, or extended definition. The term being defined has been bolded.
Why is it important to know how to identify the three types of definitions?
When I read an essay where I am unfamiliar with most of the subject matter, it is very hard for me to write about or take a test on it. Now that I can better identify the meanings of unfamiliar ideas, I think that will help me in my reading, writing, and test-taking.
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