The Meaning of Silhouette: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of silhouette? This guide will provide you with all of the info you need on the word silhouette, including its definition, etymology, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word silhouette mean?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, a silhouette is a type of visual artistic media using pieces of cut paper to show the outline of the subject in a contrasting colour to the background. This common style is often made with a black card for the interior of a silhouette and white paper for the background as a stark contrast to the edge of an object. This linear form often uses a solid shape of a single color for the representation of the outlines of an object. There are few visual details. A silhouette can also be formed by using lighting on the light ground or pale sky to create a similar appearance of the image of a person as the outline of a solid object. One would use brighter lighting behind the subject to cast a relative darkness on the front of the subject, forming a silhouette. This drawing of the outline of a human profile portrait cut from paper is often one of partial portraits, like a busy or head. Silhouette images are often seen as a high-quality bust portrait. People enjoy having this solid shape of a single color displayed in their homes. While it is often made of paper, a painter could also paint a silhouette. Silhouette is three syllables – sil-hou-ette, and the pronunciation of silhouette is ˌsɪluːˈɛt. 

Many different languages also contain words that mean silhouette. You may notice that this list of translations of silhouette contains many different words that look and sound similar to the word silhouette. These are called cognates, which are often formed when two words of different languages have the same roof or language of origin. This list of translations of silhouette is provided by Word Sense.

  • Georgian: სილუეტი‎
  •  Roman: silueta‎ (fem.)
  •  Interlingue: siluette‎
  •  Czech: silueta‎ (fem.)
  •  Danish: silhuet‎ (common)
  •  Finnish: siluetti‎, varjokuva‎
  •  Cyrillic: силуета‎ (fem.)
  •  French: silhouette‎ (fem.)
  •  Belarusian: сілуэт‎ (masc.)
  •  Icelandic: skuggamynd‎ (fem.)
  •  Polish: zarys‎, kontur‎, sylwetka‎ (fem.)
  •  Korean: 실루엣‎
  •  Malay: siluet‎
  •  Armenian: ուրվագիծ‎
  •  Slovak: silueta‎ (fem.)
  •  Welsh: amlinell‎ (fem.), silwét‎ (masc.), cysgodlun‎ (masc.)
  •  Spanish: silueta‎ (fem.)
  •  Basque: silueta‎
  •  Hebrew: צלולית‎
  •  Ukrainian: силует‎ (masc.)
  •  Bokmål: silhuett‎ (masc.)
  •  Ido: silueto‎
  •  Galician: silueta‎ (fem.)
  •  Hungarian: sziluett‎
  •  Bulgarian: силует‎ (masc.)
  •  Turkish: silüet‎
  •  Japanese: シルエット‎ (shiruetto)
  •  Catalan: silueta‎ (fem.)
  •  Russian: силуэ́т‎ (masc.)
  •  Estonian: siluett‎
  •  Slovene: silhueta‎ (fem.)
  •  Indonesian: siluet‎
  •  Albanian: siluetë‎
  •  Lithuanian: siluetas‎ (masc.)
  •  Latvian: siluets‎ (masc.)
  •  Afrikaans: silhoeët‎
  •  Esperanto: silueto‎
  •  Yoruba: biribiri‎, ojiji biribiri‎
  •  German: Silhouette‎ (fem.), Schattenriss‎ (masc.)
  •  Nynorsk: silhuett‎ (masc.)
  •  Greek: σιλουέτα‎ (fem.)
  •  Portuguese: silhueta‎ (fem.)
  •  Irish: scáthchruth‎ (masc.)
  •  Romanian: siluetă‎ (fem.)
  •  Dutch: silhouet‎ (neut.)
  •  Macedonian: силуета‎ (fem.)
  •  Swedish: silhuett‎ (common), siluett‎ (common)
  •  Italian: silhouette‎ (fem.), controluce‎, sagoma‎
  •  Mandarin: 剪影‎ (jiǎnyǐng)

What is the origin of the word silhouette?

According to Merriam-Webster, the silhouette was named after Étienne de Silhouette. He was France’s finance minister under Louis XV. He was not well loved, but rather notorious for being excessively frugal and the cut-paper shadow portraits. The term “à la Silhouette” was used to mean on the cheap or cheaply, and the portraits were a satirical allusion named after him as well. One can add the suffixes ted and ting to create the related word silhouetted and silhouetting. These were first popularized in the early early decades of the 19th century through the  21st century as a cheap, effective alternative to a portrait miniature. Those skilled specialist artists were pricey. 

What are synonyms of silhouette?

There are a few different words that one can use to refer to this type of outline drawing, usually in a solid color and often a black color. Learning synonyms is a great way to expand your vocabulary and avoid using the same word over and over again. Synonyms are words and phrases with the same definition as another word or phrase. This list of synonyms for the word silhouette is provided by Power Thesaurus.

  •  form
  •  outline
  •  cast
  •  chassis
  •  design
  •  delineation
  •  side view
  •  shade
  •  frame
  •  shadows
  •  build
  •  contour
  •  defined
  •  delineate
  •  conformation
  •  out line
  •  physique
  •  defines
  •  edge
  •  shadow
  •  appearance
  •  relief
  •  skyline
  •  profiles
  •  body
  •  adumbration
  •  outlining
  •  figure
  •  define
  •  lines
  •  body shape
  •  framework
  •  lineation
  •  defining
  •  portrait
  •  lineaments
  •  diagram
  •  configuration
  •  line
  •  figuration
  •  formation
  •  sketch
  •  outlined
  •  profile
  •  boundary
  •  shape
  •  shapes
  •  lineament
  •  figures
  •  contours

How can the word silhouette be used in a sentence?

There are many different ways that one can use the word silhouette in a sentence to refer to an outline of a solid figure in the shape of an object, often in uniform color and a two-dimensional representation of the outline of an object. Using words in a sentence is a great way to memorize their definition. You can also try making flashcards or quizzes for yourself to test your knowledge of the definitions of different words. Try using this word of the day in the sentence today. Below are a couple of different examples of the word silhouette to help get you started. 

On our wedding night, we had a silhouette artist come and make a portrait of our first dance. We hung it in our doorway and it is one of my favorite things.

The dancers were on the stage in silhouette, and the audience could only see the outline of their bodies.

Overall, the word silhouette means a profile portrait that is made from the outline or shadow of the subject – usually, this illustrated outline is a profile portrait cut from a piece of paper. The silhouette was named after the 18th century French controller general of finances Étienne de Silhouette’s brief career and his surname. This French politician was not well liked.


  1. Silhouette | Definition of Silhouette | Merriam-Webster 
  2. Silhouette synonyms – 279 Words and Phrases for Silhouette | Power Thesaurus 
  3. Entry: silhouettes | American Heritage Dictionary
  4. silhouette: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense