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Middle English, from Old English sceapen, gescapen, past participle of scieppan; akin to Old High German skepfen to shape


  • 1: form, create; especially : to give a particular form or shape to
  • 2obsolete : ordain, decree
  • 3: to adapt in shape so as to fit neatly and closely <a dress shaped to her figure>
  • 4a : devise, plan <shape a policy>
b : to embody in definite form <shaping a folktale into an epic>
  • 5a : to make fit for (as a particular use or purpose) : adapt <shape the questions to fit the answers>
b : to determine or direct the course or character of <events that shaped history>
c : to modify (behavior) by rewarding changes that tend toward a desired response


The shape (Old English: gesceap, created thing) of an object located in some space is a geometrical description of the part of that space occupied by the object, as determined by its external boundary – abstracting from location and orientation in space, size, and other properties such as color, content, and material composition.

Mathematician and statistician David George Kendall writes:

In this paper ‘shape’ is used in the vulgar sense, and means what one would normally expect it to mean. [...] We here define ‘shape’ informally as ‘all the geometrical information that remains when location, scale[2] and rotational effects are filtered out from an object.’

Simple shapes can be described by basic geometry objects such as a set of two or more points, a line, a curve, a plane, a plane figure (e.g. square or circle), or a solid figure (e.g. cube or sphere). Most shapes occurring in the physical world are complex. Some, such as plant structures and coastlines, may be so arbitrary as to defy traditional mathematical description – in which case they may be analyzed by differential geometry, or as fractals.[1]