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A DEFINITION is the explanation of a word according to certain principles.

Every detinition consists of three parts : 1. the subject ; 2. the genus; and 3. the species.

1. The subject is the word to be defined.

2. The genus shows to what class of beings or things the subject belongs.

3. The species shows how the subject differs from others of the same genus, thus : subject. genus.

species. (Justice) is (the virtue) (of giving to every man his due.)

Here "justice” is the subject defined : the word “ virtue” is the genus, that is, it shows to what class

1 The word “ definition” is derived from the Latin verb finire, which signifies to lay down the boundary or extent of the meaning of a word.


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of things the subject, “justice," belongs : and lastly, "of giving to every man his due” expresses the species of that genus; it specifies the virtue, and shows how this virtue (justice) differs from other virtues.

The learner must here be cautioned against several errors into which he is likely to fall in writing definitions.

1. Never define by a single term. As

every definition must consist of three parts, and as defining a subject by a single term will give but two, to do so is obviously an error. Besides, it may be laid down as a principle that no one word will ever define another. Thus, to say that “ tude” would be wrong; for though these terms are very like each other in meaning, they are not identical.

2. Never define by a negative.

The reason why a negative definition is faulty, is that in such a case the required information is not given ; as when one would say “courage is not cowardice,” or “joy is not sorrow," we are in no way enlightened as to the nature of these subjects ; we are told what they are not, and not what they are; hence, such a form of definition is faulty and unsatisfactory.

3. Never define by a derivative.

It is obviously wrong to use a derivative from the subject in the definition; for, as the objeet of a defini

l tion is to inform, we clearly defeat our purpose by employing terms of the same etymology as the subject itself. Whoever wishes for a definition of the term “ malice,” will not gain his end by hearing that it is “a malicious feeling." Again, to define history as

an historical account of a nation,” would be open to the same objection.

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4. Take care that the definition be neither too extensive nor too narrow.

If any one should define a horse as a swift-running quadruped,” this definition would be too extensive; as there are many other swift-running quadrupeds, and we might thus confound a horse with a zebra, hare, or fox. Again, if we define a fish as

an animal that has an air-bladder," this would be too narrow a definition, since many fish are without them.

5. Do not confound an opinion with a definition.

Many learners fall into this error; they forget that the purpose in defining is to explain the nature of the subject; and instead of so doing, they make some assertion, or express an opinion, about it. Thus, it is wrong to suppose that “history is a useful study,”

patience is a desirable virtue,” &c., is a definition. Lastly, it must be remembered that the terms of the definition must be plainer than the subject defined, or else they will not, in general, explain it. Hence, the more common the subject, the more difficult is it to define, because the more difficult to find terms simpler than the subject itself. Hence, also, it may be observed, that it is useless and unnecessary to define very common words; as an attempt to do so only confuses or obscures our ideas of their meaning.

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Let the learner point out the parts of the following definitions

1. Flattery is false praise.
2. Avarice -- an excessive desire of wealth.

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3. Generosity-an act of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others.

4. Perseverance -a continued determination to overcome difficulties.

5. Procrastination - the habit of delaying our duties.

6. Biography-an account of the lives of celebrated people.

7. Philosophy- an inquiry into the nature and properties of things.

8. Education — the process of training all the mental and bodily powers. 9. A garden

a space enclosed, for the cultivation of fruit, flowers, &c.

10. A day-the space of twenty-four hours. 11. A gallon - a measure containing eight pints.

12. A soldier-one who fights on land for the defence of his country.


When, in contemplating a number of subjects, we find them to agree in some one quality, the term that expresses that quality is called a generic term ; i. e. it represents a whole genus, or class of beings or things. Thus: a man, a horse, a dog, a fox, and many others, agree in the quality of possessing life. The word that expresses this quality is “animal,and the terms, man, horse, dog, &c., are all included in this genus. Again, under the generic term tree, may be ranged, oak, elm, pine, beech, &c. So, the genus vice will comprise avarice, gambling, drunkenness, and many others.


To the following forms add the species, to make up the definition : Vice.

State. Avarice is the vice

Peace is a state Luxury is the vice

Prosperity is a state Dishonesty is the vice ... Poverty is a state ... Drunkenness

War. Gluttony

Happiness Anger .

Melancholy Falsehood

Excitement Gambling




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Complete the definition, as in Lesson II., by the addition of the species :Art.

Science. Music is the art

Geography is the science Painting is the art

Geology is the science Poetry is the art

Grammar is the science Sculpture

Astronomy Architecture

Geometry Composition

Mechanics Printing

Hydrostatics Writing





Add the species, as before :

Procrastination is the habit... Justice is the virtue
Curiosity is the habit of

Temperance is the virtue... Idleness is the habit of . Fortitude is the virtue Punctuality

Generosity Industry

Patience. Perseverance

Obedience Attention

Resignation Observation


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