1. One that is representative of a group as a whole: the squirrel, an example of a rodent; introduced each new word with examples of its use.
2. One serving as a pattern of a specific kind: set a good example by arriving on time.
3. A similar case that constitutes a model or precedent: a unique episode, without example in maritime history.
a. A punishment given as a warning or deterrent: saw the boy's suspension as an example to all students considering breaking the rules.
b. One that has been given such a punishment: made an example of the offender.
5. A problem or exercise used to illustrate a principle or method.
As an illustrative instance: Wear something simple; for example, a skirt and blouse.
[Middle English, from Old French example, essaumple, from Latin exemplum, from eximere, to take out : ex-, ex- + emere, to take; see em- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: example, instance, case1, illustration, specimen
These nouns refer to what is representative of or serves to explain a larger group or class. An example is a typically representative part that demonstrates the character of the whole: "Of the despotism to which unrestrained military power leads we have plenty of examples from Alexander to Mao" (Samuel Eliot Morison).
An instance is an example that is cited to prove or illustrate a point: offered the statistics as an instance of why the penal system needed to be overhauled. A case is an example belonging to a particular category: a case of life imitating art. An illustration clarifies or explains: "[The author] has provided an illustration of a first-rate experimental mind at work" (Richard Bernstein).
Specimen often denotes an individual, representative member of a group or class: This poem is an excellent specimen of her work.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.