Anything with form has a certain shape, or figure, but we most often use the word to suggest a human’s form. That's why all those dolls are called "action figures" — they have the physical shape of people.

In a broad sense, the noun figure can be used to suggest anything with a physical presence. In technical writings, pictures representing some concept are usually labeled as figures. A physically attractive woman is said to have a nice figure. We also say that a prominent person is a well-known figure. The word also can refer to a number, as in "a dollar figure." As a verb, the word suggests deciphering, as when you figure something out. Go figure.

Primary Meanings of figure

the form or body of a human being
a unitary percept having structure and coherence that is the object of attention and that stands out against a ground
the property possessed by a sum or total or indefinite quantity of units or individuals
make a mathematical calculation or computation
language used in a figurative or nonliteral sense
imagine; conceive of; see in one's mind
be or play a part of or in
Full Definitions of figure

n the form or body of a human being

anatomy, bod, build, chassis, flesh, form, frame, human body, material body, physical body, physique, shape, soma
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a human body (usually including the clothing)
juvenile body
the body of a young person
adult body
the body of an adult human being
male body
the body of a male human being
female body
the body of a female human being
child's body
the body of a human child
adult female body, woman's body
the body of an adult woman
adult male body, man's body
the body of an adult man
Type of:
body, organic structure, physical structure
the entire structure of an organism (an animal, plant, or human being)

n a model of a bodily form (especially of a person)

“he made a figure of Santa Claus”
Trojan Horse
a large hollow wooden figure of a horse (filled with Greek soldiers) left by the Greeks outside Troy during the Trojan War
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a figure representing the human form
figure on the bow of some sailing vessels
figurine, statuette
a small carved or molded figure
marionette, puppet
a small figure of a person operated from above with strings by a puppeteer
a figure of a person made of packed snow
lay figure
dummy in the form of an artist's jointed model of the human body
form, manakin, manikin, mannequin, mannikin
a life-size dummy used to display clothes
ventriloquist's dummy
a wooden dummy into which a ventriloquist projects the voice
Type of:
model, simulation
representation of something (sometimes on a smaller scale)

n a well-known or notable person

“she is an important figure in modern music”
name, public figure
Type of:
important person, influential person, personage
a person whose actions and opinions strongly influence the course of events

n the impression produced by a person

“he cut a fine figure
“a heroic figure
Type of:
effect, impression
an outward appearance

n a unitary percept having structure and coherence that is the object of attention and that stands out against a ground

a relatively homogeneous percept extending back of the figure on which attention is focused
Type of:
percept, perception, perceptual experience
the representation of what is perceived; basic component in the formation of a concept

n a combination of points and lines and planes that form a visible palpable shape

Colossus of Rhodes
a huge bronze statue of the sun god Helios that was built around 285 BC and that stood beside the harbor entrance on the island of Rhodes for about 50 years before it was toppled by an earthquake
Statue of Liberty
a large monumental statue symbolizing liberty on Liberty Island in New York Bay
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a figure whose sides are all equal
a figure formed by a set of straight lines or light rays meeting at a point
plane figure, two-dimensional figure
a two-dimensional shape
solid figure, three-dimensional figure
a three-dimensional shape
a figure that is a part of another figure
(mathematics) one of a set of parallel geometric figures (parallel lines or planes)
a three-dimensional work of plastic art
a plane figure with rounded sides curving inward at the top and intersecting at the bottom; conventionally used on playing cards and valentines
polygon, polygonal shape
a closed plane figure bounded by straight sides
conic, conic section
(geometry) a curve generated by the intersection of a plane and a circular cone
a plane figure that deviates from a square or circle due to elongation
hemicycle, semicircle
a plane figure with the shape of half a circle
a plane figure bounded by two radii and the included arc of a circle
a plane figure with 5 or more points; often used as an emblem
a surface having parabolic sections parallel to a single coordinate axis and elliptic sections perpendicular to that axis
a surface whose plane sections are all ellipses or circles
a subfigure consisting of a side of something
half of a sphere
tree, tree diagram
a figure that branches from a single root
a smooth surface (as of a bone or cut gemstone)
branch, leg, ramification
a part of a forked or branching shape
Type of:
form, shape
the spatial arrangement of something as distinct from its substance

n a diagram or picture illustrating textual material

“the area covered can be seen from Figure 2”
Type of:
artwork that helps make something clear or attractive

n a predetermined set of movements in dancing or skating

“she made the best score on compulsory figures
figure eight
a skating figure that carves an 8 in the ice
spread eagle
a skating figure executed with the skates heel to heel in a straight line
Type of:
maneuver, manoeuvre, play
a deliberate coordinated movement requiring dexterity and skill

n a decorative or artistic work

design, pattern
Great Seal of the United States
the seal of the United States government
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argyle, argyll
a design consisting of a pattern of varicolored diamonds on a solid background (originally for knitted articles); patterned after the tartan of a clan in western Scotland
bear claw
an incised design resembling the claw of a bear; used in Native American pottery
a design produced by inlaying gold or silver into steel
decal, decalcomania
either a design that is fixed to some surface or a paper bearing the design which is to be transferred to the surface
any ornamental pattern or design (as in embroidery)
special design or visual object representing a quality, type, group, etc.
herringbone, herringbone pattern
a pattern of columns of short parallel lines with all the lines in one column sloping one way and lines in adjacent columns sloping the other way; it is used in weaving, masonry, parquetry, embroidery
a design carved in relief into a block of linoleum
any of various geometric designs (usually circular) symbolizing the universe; used chiefly in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation
(Islam) a design in the shape of niche in a Muslim prayer rug; during worship the niche must be pointed toward Mecca
motif, motive
a design or figure that consists of recurring shapes or colors, as in architecture or decoration
polka dot
design consisting of a pattern of regularly spaced circular spots
a design produced by pyrography
screen saver
(computer science) a moving design that appears on a computer screen when there has been no input for a specified period of time
a design consisting of a central disk resembling the sun and rays emanating from it
a design on the skin made by tattooing
tetraskele, tetraskelion
a figure consisting of four stylized human arms or legs (or bent lines) radiating from a center
triskele, triskelion
a figure consisting of three stylized human arms or legs (or three bent lines) radiating from a center
pattern of weaving or structure of a fabric
a pattern of marks
a textile pattern of squares or crossed lines (resembling a checkerboard)
a publisher's emblem printed in a book (usually on the title page)
colors, colours
a distinguishing emblem
(heraldry) in medieval times, an emblem used to decorate a helmet
a representation of the structure on which Jesus was crucified; used as an emblem of Christianity or in heraldry
an emblematic design (especially in heraldry)
emblem usually consisting of a rectangular piece of cloth of distinctive design
emblem indicating the right of a person to bear arms
open weave
a weave in which warp threads never come together, leaving interstices in the fabric
plain weave, taffeta weave
a basic style of weave in which the weft and warp threads intertwine alternately to produce a checkerboard effect
satin weave
a weave in which the filling and warp threads intersect in such a way as to give a smooth compact surface with no distinguishable twill line
seal, stamp
a device incised to make an impression; used to secure a closing or to authenticate documents
skull and crossbones
emblem warning of danger or death
emblem consisting of an object such as an animal or plant; serves as the symbol of a family or clan (especially among American Indians)
totem pole
a tribal emblem consisting of a pillar carved and painted with totemic figures; erected by Indian tribes of the northwest Pacific coast
twill, twill weave
a weave used to produce the effect of parallel diagonal ribs
a light-colored marking
crisscross, cross, mark
a marking that consists of lines that cross each other
eyespot, ocellus
an eyelike marking (as on the wings of some butterflies); usually a spot of color inside a ring of another color
graded markings that indicate light or shaded areas in a drawing or painting
dapple, fleck, maculation, patch, speckle, spot
a small contrasting part of something
bar, streak, stripe
a narrow marking of a different color or texture from the background
Hakenkreuz, swastika
the official emblem of the Nazi Party and the Third Reich; a cross with the arms bent at right angles in a clockwise direction
Type of:
decoration, ornament, ornamentation
something used to beautify

n the property possessed by a sum or total or indefinite quantity of units or individuals

“the figure was about a thousand”
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multiplicity, numerosity, numerousness
a large number
preponderance, prevalence
a superiority in numbers or amount
countlessness, innumerableness
a number beyond counting
bulk, majority
the property resulting from being or relating to the greater in number of two parts; the main part
being or relating to the smaller in number of two parts
the quality of being small in number
the quality of being round numbers
a very large number (especially of people)
Type of:
the relative magnitude of something with reference to a criterion

n an amount of money expressed numerically

“a figure of $17 was suggested”
Type of:
amount, amount of money, sum, sum of money
a quantity of money

n one of the elements that collectively form a system of numeration

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binary digit
either 0 or 1 in binary notation
octal digit
a digit from 0 to 7 in octal notation
decimal digit
a digit from 0 to 9 in decimal notation
duodecimal digit
a digit from 0 to 11 in duodecimal notation
hexadecimal digit
a digit from 0 to 15 in hexadecimal notation
significant digit, significant figure
any digit of a number that is known with certainty; any digit of a number beginning with the leftmost non-zero digit and ending with the rightmost non-zero digit (or a zero considered to be the exact value)
0, cipher, cypher, nought, zero
a mathematical element that when added to another number yields the same number
1, I, ace, one, single, unity
the smallest whole number or a numeral representing this number
2, II, deuce, two
the cardinal number that is the sum of one and one or a numeral representing this number
3, III, deuce-ace, leash, tercet, ternary, ternion, terzetto, three, threesome, tierce, trey, triad, trine, trinity, trio, triplet, troika
the cardinal number that is the sum of one and one and one
4, IV, Little Joe, four, foursome, quadruplet, quartet, quatern, quaternary, quaternion, quaternity, tetrad
the cardinal number that is the sum of three and one
5, Little Phoebe, Phoebe, V, cinque, fin, five, fivesome, pentad, quint, quintet, quintuplet
the cardinal number that is the sum of four and one
6, Captain Hicks, VI, half a dozen, hexad, sestet, sextet, sextuplet, sise, six, sixer
the cardinal number that is the sum of five and one
7, VII, heptad, septenary, septet, seven, sevener
the cardinal number that is the sum of six and one
8, VIII, eight, eighter, eighter from Decatur, octad, octet, octonary, ogdoad
the cardinal number that is the sum of seven and one
9, IX, Nina from Carolina, ennead, nine, niner
the cardinal number that is the sum of eight and one
monad, monas
a singular metaphysical entity from which material properties are said to derive
a single object (as distinguished from a pair)
craps, snake eyes
expressions used when when two dice are thrown and both come up showing one spot
brace, couple, couplet, distich, duad, duet, duo, dyad, pair, span, twain, twosome, yoke
two items of the same kind
Type of:
integer, whole number
any of the natural numbers or their negatives or zero

v make a mathematical calculation or computation

calculate, cipher, compute, cypher, reckon, work out
work out
be calculated
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quantise, quantize
apply quantum theory to; restrict the number of possible values of (a quantity) or states of (a physical entity or system) so that certain variables can assume only certain discrete magnitudes that are integral multiples of a common factor
calculate the root of a number
perform mathematical and logical operations on (data) according to programmed instructions in order to obtain the required information
divide or assess proportionally
miscalculate, misestimate
calculate incorrectly
calculate anew
average, average out
compute the average of
factor, factor in, factor out
resolve into factors
add, add together
make an addition by combining numbers
deduct, subtract, take off
make a subtraction
combine by multiplication
divide, fraction
perform a division
extrapolate, interpolate
estimate the value of
calculate a derivative; take the derivative
calculate the integral of; calculate by integration
plot a map of (land)
approximate, estimate, gauge, guess, judge
judge tentatively or form an estimate of (quantities or time)
make a budget
capitalise, capitalize
compute the present value of a business or an income
resolve, solve
find the solution
raise to the second power
raise to the third power
foot, foot up
add a column of numbers
carry back
deduct a loss or an unused credit from taxable income for a prior period
multiply (a number) by itself a specified number of times: 8 is 2 raised to the power 3
divide by two; divide into halves
divide by four; divide into quarters
survey by triangulation
quantise, quantize
approximate (a signal varying continuously in amplitude) by one whose amplitude is restricted to a prescribed set of discrete values
gauge something incorrectly or improperly
place, put, set
estimate the duration or outcome of something
lowball, underestimate
make a deliberately low estimate
estimate the value of (property) for taxation
calculate as being
count, reckon
take account of
overcapitalise, overcapitalize
estimate the capital value of (a company) at an unreasonably or unlawfully high level
factorise, factorize
resolve (a polynomial) into factors
approximate by ignoring all terms beyond a chosen one
estimate based on a calculation
Type of:
think logically

n language used in a figurative or nonliteral sense

figure of speech, image, trope
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an elaborate poetic image or a far-fetched comparison of very dissimilar things
a trope that involves incongruity between what is expected and what occurs
exaggeration, hyperbole
extravagant exaggeration
conventional metaphoric name for something, used especially in Old English and Old Norse poetry
a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity
substituting the name of an attribute or feature for the name of the thing itself (as in `they counted heads')
conjoining contradictory terms (as in `deafening silence')
personification, prosopopoeia
representing an abstract quality or idea as a person or creature
a figure of speech that expresses a resemblance between things of different kinds (usually formed with `like' or `as')
substituting a more inclusive term for a less inclusive one or vice versa
use of a word to govern two or more words though appropriate to only one
dramatic irony
(theater) irony that occurs when the meaning of the situation is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play
dead metaphor, frozen metaphor
a metaphor that has occurred so often that it has become a new meaning of the expression (e.g., `he is a snake' may once have been a metaphor but after years of use it has died and become a new sense of the word `snake')
mixed metaphor
a combination of two or more metaphors that together produce a ridiculous effect
synesthetic metaphor
a metaphor that exploits a similarity between experiences in different sense modalities
substituting metonymy of one figurative sense for another
use of a word to govern two or more words though agreeing in number or case etc. with only one
Type of:
rhetorical device
a use of language that creates a literary effect (but often without regard for literal significance)

v imagine; conceive of; see in one's mind

envision, fancy, image, picture, project, see, visualise, visualize
realise, realize, see, understand
perceive (an idea or situation) mentally
visualise, visualize
form a mental picture of something that is invisible or abstract
Type of:
conceive of, envisage, ideate, imagine
form a mental image of something that is not present or that is not the case

v understand

“He didn't figure her”
Type of:
apprehend, compass, comprehend, dig, get the picture, grasp, grok, savvy
understand or perceive the meaning of something

v judge to be probable

calculate, count on, estimate, forecast, reckon
allow, take into account
allow or plan for a certain possibility; concede the truth or validity of something
budget for
calculate enough money for; provide for in the budget
Type of:
evaluate, judge, pass judgment
form a critical opinion of

v be or play a part of or in

“Elections figure prominently in every government program”
“How do the elections figure in the current pattern of internal politics?”
Type of:
have the quality of being; (copula, used with an adjective or a predicate noun)