So, it’s the night before your big essay deadline, and you haven’t even started. You’ll definitely learn not to do this next time but, for now, it’s time to focus. Except you’re panicking because you’ve realized you have no idea what to write about. When even is a definition essay?!
It’s okay, you’ve got this. Take a deep breath. We’re going to help you through this by providing you with 165 definition essay topics to choose from. Put the coffee down, take some time to get inspired by this article, and you will go back to the keyboard with a head full of ideas.
Defining the Definition Essay
Ironically, if you want to write a perfect definition essay you must define what it means first.
As the name suggests, a definition essay explores the meaning behind a particular word; however, it’s much more complex than that. This type of essay explores words that can be interpreted differently, and that have multiple meanings.
Most definition essays will require you to discuss your own interpretation of your chosen word, backing this up with personal examples.
There is some good news if you’ve left your essay to the last minute; definition essays are generally much shorter than other types of academic essays, and they do not usually exceed one page (around 500 words).
Tips for Writing a Definition Essay
Now that you know exactly what a definition essay is, you need to follow a few tips before you begin writing.
Choosing Your Word
If you want to successfully write an engaging definition essay, the word you choose must follow certain criteria.
- Ambiguous – the best definition essays discuss a word that does not have one set meaning. It should have different implications depending on the context, and it might also mean different things to different people.
- Interesting – it goes without saying that you should have some natural interest in what your chosen word means. For example, you may choose the word “love” because you have either good or bad associations with it, along with experiences to support your view.
- Simple – it may seem like a good idea to write about some sophisticated term that you picked from the dictionary but, if it’s not frequently in your vocabulary, you will struggle to write about how it may be interpreted.
Research the Etymology
The cultural and historical background of a particular word will often help you to understand the multiple meanings it can have. Think about your chosen’s words country of origin, as well as the period from which it comes. You can then consider if these factors have an impact on how we interpret the word in modern society.
Follow the Proper Structure
All academic essays require you to follow a particular structure; this makes them engaging and easy to read.
Here is an excellent reference for how to structure your definition essay.
Definition Essay Topics
Below are 165 different topics for your definition essay, divided into subsections of well-known yet complex words.
We say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and, undoubtedly, everyone is beautiful to somebody. However, a definition essay may explore how beauty isn’t as subjective as we may think.
- What does it mean to be beautiful?
- Does society hold particular standards of beauty?
- Does beauty manifest itself in different ways?
- How do we define an absence of beauty?
- Beauty standards for men vs wome
Everyone has their view on what perfection means to them, and many wonder if it exists at all. It is a great word to ponder in a definition essay.
- Is perfection truly attainable?
- What is perfection?
- Is the pursuit of perfection a waste of time?
- Is perfection a prerequisite for success?
Love can be felt in very different ways from person to person. Our relationships will allow love to manifest in various forms.
- How love differs between family, friends, and romantic connections
- Does love have a universal meaning?
- Is there any real difference between love and hate?
- Does love have the potential to be a negative thing?
- How does love impact other concepts in our relationships?
- Is love selfish or selfless?
- Is it possible not to feel love?
When writing a definition essay on the concept of “family” you may wish to discuss the structure, morals, associations, and purpose of a family.
- What are the qualities of a family?
- What makes a “good” family?
- Defining the family: 50 years ago vs now
- Is there such thing as a nuclear family in today’s world?
- How does family influence our choices?
- How important are family values?
- Does a family have to be blood-related?
- What keeps a family connected?
- What does family signify within your culture?
Many will spend their lives in the pursuit of happiness, and not ever be sure if they’ve attained it.
- Can money buy happiness?
- Do we need to always aim higher to be happy?
- Is happiness essential for survival?
- Is it unrealistic to expect total happiness?
- How does happiness influence our actions?
- Does our happiness matter to other people?
Across the world, societies will have vastly different views on what it means to be “poor”, which can be influenced by politics, economy, and culture.
- Is poverty relative?
- Can people break out of poverty without external help?
- What role does poverty play in our society?
- Is poverty merely a financial problem?
- Does poverty impact other aspects of one’s life?
Acts of kindness come from the goodness of your heart, but they can be interpreted differently by others.
- What is an act of kindness?
- What does it mean to be kind?
- Does kindness equate to happiness?
- Do we need to be compassionate to be kind?
- Why is kindness important?
- Can kindness come in different forms?
- How do we show kindness in everyday life?
In the 21st century, the definition of intelligence has broadened beyond academic abilities.
- How do we measure intelligence?
- Is intelligence exclusively a human quality? (Artificial intelligence)
- What are the indicators of an intelligent person?
- Does academic achievement automatically equate to intelligence?
- Is intelligence emotional, physical, or both?
We know that some people mature faster than others, and it’s interesting to ponder what maturity actually is.
- Are all adults intrinsically mature?
- When do we reach maturity?
- At what point can a person be considered mature?
- What are the characteristics of a mature person?
- Why is maturity important?
- What role does maturity play in our relationships?
- Does someone need to be mature to succeed?
One person’s success may be another person’s idea of total failure; it’s one of the most subjective concepts known to man.
- What is your personal definition of success?
- Do we need to accomplish something to be successful?
- Is it important for society to have standards for success? (Going to school, having a career etc.)
- Is success important to proceed through life?
- How do we become successful?
- Is success a purely subjective notion, or is it influenced by the achievements of our peers?
- Does society put too much pressure on individuals to succeed?
We all try to treat others with respect, right? And yet, you may feel totally disrespected by someone who insists they were showing the utmost respect for you.
- What does it mean to respect someone?
- Should we always respect our elders?
- Is respect innate or earned?
- Understanding the role of respect in a romantic relationship
- How do we show respect to others?
While the concept of honesty may seem fairly straightforward, it can be a complex idea with many different notions.
- How do we practice honesty in everyday life?
- Is honesty always the best policy?
- Do honesty and truthfulness mean the same thing?
- What are the traits of an honest person?
- Is honesty important to you?
- What role does honesty play in our relationships with peers?
- The role of honesty in the workplace
The word often conjures up images of a superhero, or firefighters saving victims from a burning building. A definition essay is a great opportunity to go beyond this perceived idea.
- How can a person show courage?
- Is cowardice the opposite of courage?
- What is a courageous act?
- Is courage necessary to achieve our goals?
- What causes us to show courage?
- Why is the presence of courageous people important in society?
When we go through a breakup or someone close to us dies, we experience grief. This process manifests itself in wildly different ways.
- What can trigger grief?
- Is grief a natural emotional response?
- Is it possible to avoid feeling grief?
- Is grief solely triggered by loss?
- What do you consider a grieving response?
- How do we deal with grief?
- What is your personal experience with grief?
- Does grief help us to accept loss?
- Is grief a solely human reaction?
In a world with increasing calls for social justice, we are hearing the word “privilege” more and more frequently. With this comes the consideration of what it means to be privileged.
- What is privilege?
- Is it difficult to recognize our own privileges?
- Are privileges given by society?
- What are the implications of white privilege?
- Do men have an inherent privilege over women?
- How does privilege impact the less fortunate?
- Are privilege and equality mutually exclusive terms?
Along with kindness and honesty, trust is a respectable and often necessary trait. However, it can be interpreted differently depending on the context.
- What does it mean to trust someone?
- Does someone have to be truthful to be trustworthy?
- Why is trust important?
- Should we be able to trust our leaders?
- Is trust built gradually, or can it be established immediately?
Often, the word “feminism” is misinterpreted as a movement dedicated to misandry. Recent social injustices have led us to question what it truly means to be a feminist.
- What does feminism mean to you?
- Why I do/don’t identify as a feminist
- How the meaning of feminism has evolved over time
- Is feminism synonymous with equality?
- Can men support feminism?
Vanity is often perceived as a negative quality; after all, it’s one of the seven deadly sins. However, this meaning can certainly be disputed.
- What is vanity?
- Do all famous people have vanity?
- Is vanity necessary for success?
- When is vanity a positive trait?
- How the definition of vanity has changed over time
Progress in life often isn’t linear, and we all have our interpretation of what it means to make progress.
- What does it mean to make progress?
- What is your definition of progress in your own life?
- Is other people’s progress important to you?
- Does progress always lead to success?
- Do people need to consistently make progress to keep up with their peers?
- What are some indicators that someone has made progress?
It’s been the subject of discussion around the world, after wars and conflicts have fundamentally changed society. In reality, there is no one definition of “peace”.
- What do you consider a peaceful society to be?
- Is world peace truly achievable?
- Is peace merely the absence of conflict?
- Can a society have peace if there are class inequalities?
- Why is peace important for society?
- Does peace require compromise?
A concept that has only been present for an incredibly small portion of our history. Depending on their own experience, many will have either a positive or vastly negative view of social media.
- Is social media truly “social”?
- What role does social media play in your life?
- Is social media inherently dangerous?
- Does social media highlight our insecurities?
- Has social media transformed the way we interact?
What is a good friend? Can a friendship really last for life? These are questions you can ponder while writing your definition essay.
- How important is friendship to you?
- Is friendship an essential part of our social life?
- How does friendship compare to your relationship with family, or your romantic relationship(s)?
Freedom can come in many different forms: emotional, physical, spiritual and more. It’s a fantastic concept to discuss in your essay.
- Should we be entirely free to do as we please? (The need for leaders in society)
- What does freedom mean in your life?
- Do we need freedom to be truly happy?
- How does the definition of freedom change from one society/country to another?
- What is the American vision of freedom, and how was it created?
For some it’s the answer to a harmonious society, for others it’s a peril.
- What makes up a democratic society?
- The evolution of democracy through history
- Are democracy and politics inherently linked?
- Why is democracy necessary?
Though this usually refers to justice within the legal system, it can be interpreted in many different ways.
- In your opinion, what has to occur for justice to be served?
- Is justice given to wrongfully convicted prisoners?
- Why is justice essential for the underprivileged?
- Does the Biblical definition of justice apply to general society?
- Is justice necessary to achieve equality?
- In what ways is society unjust?
Whether on an individual basis or for an entire country, independence is a quality valued by many.
- What do you consider to be independence?
- Is it possible for a human being to be truly independent?
- Does one have to be self-sufficient to be independent?
- Is independence inherently lonely?
- Why is it important for individual countries to have independence?
In the age of the Internet, privacy is an increasing concern for many. Just how vital is it to our everyday lives?
- How much privacy should be given to children?
- Is it ever okay to invade someone else’s privacy?
- Should privacy be considered a human right?
- How much privacy should be afforded to the average Internet user?
- What does privacy mean to you personally?
- Are there circumstances where a person shouldn’t have the right to privacy?
You’re probably holding out some hope right now that you can get your essay completed before the deadline. In general, hope is a major contributing factor to our happiness.
- What does hope mean for you?
- Is hope for ourselves necessary for success?
- How can we find hope in everyday things?
- Does “blind hope” really exist?
The existence of phobias is enough to show that fear is completely subjective. This word allows you to indulge your own experiences throughout your essay.
- What happens to your mind and body when you feel fear?
- How do you personally experience fear?
- Do you think there are universal triggers for fear?
- What is the difference between rational and irrational fear?
- Does feeling fear help to push us towards success?
Calmed down yet? Good; you can relax knowing that you have an abundance of topics to choose from, as well as a reference point for future essays.
The above topics allow you to explore the definitions of each word beyond what is stated in the dictionary. Indeed, you can draw both from your own experience, as well as the ways in which the word has been treated by history and culture.
Now, it’s time to brew a fresh coffee and get typing. Good luck!