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[ten-er] /ˈtɛn ər/
the course of thought or meaning that runs through something written or spoken; purport; drift.
continuous course, progress, or movement.
Rhetoric. the subject of a metaphor, as “she” in “She is a rose.”.
Compare vehicle (def 8).
  1. the adult male voice intermediate between the bass and the alto or countertenor.
  2. a part sung by or written for such a voice, especially the next to the lowest part in four-part harmony.
  3. a singer with such a voice.
  4. an instrument corresponding in compass to this voice, especially the viola.
  5. the lowest-toned bell of a peal.
quality, character, or condition.
Music. of, relating to, or having the compass of a tenor.
1250-1300; < Medieval Latin, Latin: course, continuity, tone, equivalent to ten(ēre) to hold + -or -or1; replacing Middle English ten(o)ur < Anglo-French < Latin, as above
Related forms
tenorless, adjective
Can be confused
tender, tenor, tenure.
1. sense, import, content, substance, gist. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for tenor
  • As an interpreter, his voice is a versatile tenor with a rare tenderness and a seemingly effortless way with a song.
  • Every single word you choose to write is laden with meaning that can dramatically alter the tenor and message of a story.
  • In keeping with its high-minded tenor, the film unrolls nearly every scene a beat too slowly.
  • Beck's voice in his religious interludes shifts from the usual silken tenor to something weak and trembly.
  • His voice was thin, reedy, not quite suited for the high notes or large gestures of the standard tenor.
  • In addition to the mission statement, the ethos also includes the ephemeral tone and tenor of the campus.
  • Regardless of the tenor of the campaign, money may be undermining faith in the court.
  • Given the hyperbole and personal attacks that so often masquerade for debate today, it's worth noting the tenor of this debate.
  • What bothered me more than the inadequate fact checking was the general tenor of this article.
  • Or, the oddly bombastic tenor of his fellow forum members' posts.
British Dictionary definitions for tenor


  1. the male voice intermediate between alto and baritone, having a range approximately from the B a ninth below middle C to the G a fifth above it
  2. a singer with such a voice
  3. a saxophone, horn, recorder, etc, intermediate in compass and size between the alto and baritone or bass
  4. (as modifier): a tenor sax
general drift of thought; purpose: to follow the tenor of an argument
  1. (in early polyphonic music) the part singing the melody or the cantus firmus
  2. (in four-part harmony) the second lowest part lying directly above the bass
  1. the heaviest and lowest-pitched bell in a ring
  2. (as modifier): a tenor bell
a settled course of progress
(archaic) general tendency
(finance) the time required for a bill of exchange or promissory note to become due for payment
  1. the exact words of a deed, etc, as distinct from their effect
  2. an exact copy or transcript
Derived Forms
tenorless, adjective
Word Origin
C13 (originally: general meaning or sense): from Old French tenour, from Latin tenor a continuous holding to a course, from tenēre to hold; musical sense via Italian tenore, referring to the voice part that was continuous, that is, to which the melody was assigned
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for tenor

c.1300, "general meaning, purpose, drift," from Old French tenour "substance, sense" (13c.), from Latin tenorem (nominative tenor) "contents, course," originally "a holding on," from tenere "to hold" (see tenet). The musical sense of "high male voice" is attested from late 14c., because the sustained melody (canto fermo) was carried by the tenor's part.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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tenor in Culture

tenor definition

The highest range of the male singing voice. (Compare baritone and bass.)

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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