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From Middle English liknesse, from Old English līcness, ġelīcnes (the quality of being like or equal; likeness; image; copy; pattern; example; parable), from Proto-West Germanic *galīkanassī (likeness), equivalent to like +‎ -ness. Cognate with West Frisian likenis (likeness), Dutch gelijkenis (similarity; likeness; parable), German Low German Glieknis (form; semblance; likeness; parable), German Gleichnis (form; semblance; image; likeness; parable; simile). The verb is derived from the noun. Compare also Old Norse líkneskja (figure, image, appearance, likeness).


  • IPA(key): /ˈlaɪknəs/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: like‧ness


likeness (plural likenesses)

  1. The state or quality of being like or alike
    • 1822, Ludwig Tieck, translated by Connop Thirlwall, The Pictures:
      Erich thought he observed a likeness between the stranger and a relative of Walther; this led them into the chapter of likenesses, and the strange way in which certain forms repeat themselves in families, often most distinctly in the most remote ramifications.
    Synonyms: similitude, resemblance, similarity
  2. Appearance or form; guise.
    A foe in the likeness of a friend
    • Genesis, I, 26
      And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
  3. That which closely resembles; a portrait.
    How he looked, the likenesses of him which still remain enable us to imagine.
    • 1838 (date written), L[etitia] E[lizabeth] L[andon], chapter XI, in Lady Anne Granard; or, Keeping up Appearances. [], volume I, London: Henry Colburn, [], published 1842, →OCLC, page 141:
      At this moment Mr. Glentworth's eye fell on a little pencilled sketch of himself. In her joy at seeing the original, Isabella had forgotten the copy. Again a bright scarlet passed over her face; and her companion, from that necessity of saying something which originates more subjects of conversation than any thing else, observed, "I did not know you had a talent for taking likenesses."


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likeness (third-person singular simple present likenesses, present participle likenessing, simple past and past participle likenessed)

  1. (archaic, transitive) To depict.
    • 1857, April 25, Alfred Lord Tennyson, letter to Reginald Southey, in Cecil Y. Lang and Edgar F. Shannon Jr. (editors), The Letters of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Volume II: 1851-1870, Belknap Press (1987), →ISBN, page 171:
      I have this morning received the photographs of my two boys. The eldest is very well likenessed: the other, perhaps, not so well.
    • 1868, November, advertisement, in Arthur's Home Magazine, Volume XXXII, Number 21, after page 320:
      Every member of the family [of General Grant] is as faithfully likenessed as the photographs, which were given to the artist from the hands of the General himself, have power to express.

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