American English

Definition of purpose noun from the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary



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  1. 1[countable] the intention, aim, or function of something; the thing that something is supposed to achieve Our campaign's main purpose is to raise money. The purpose of the book is to provide a complete guide to the university. A meeting was called for the purpose of appointing a new treasurer. The experiments serve no useful purpose (= are not useful). The building is used for religious purposes.
  2. 2purposes [plural] what is needed in a particular situation These gifts count as income for tax purposes. For the purposes of this study, the three groups have been combined.
  3. 3[countable, uncountable] meaning that is important and valuable to you Volunteer work gives her life (a sense of) purpose.
  4. 4[uncountable] the ability to plan something and work successfully to achieve it synonym determination He has enormous confidence and strength of purpose. see also cross purposes
  5. Thesauruspurposeaim intention plan point ideaThese are all words for talking about what someone intends to do or achieve.purpose what something is supposed to achieve; what someone is trying to achieve:The purpose of the visit was to see the campus in person.aim what someone is trying to achieve; what something is supposed to achieve:Our main aim is to increase sales in the Northwest.purpose or aim?Your purpose for doing something is your reason for doing it; your aim is what you want to achieve. Aim can suggest that you are only trying to achieve something;purpose gives a stronger sense of achievement being certain. Aim can be someone's aim or the aim of something. Purpose is more usually the purpose of something; you can talk about someone's purpose but that is more formal.intention what you intend to do:I have no intention of going to the wedding. She's full of good intentions but things rarely work out for her.plan what you intend to do or achieve:There are no plans to build new offices.intention or plan?Your intentions are what you want to do, especially in the near future; your plans are what you have decided or arranged to do, often, but not always, in the longer term.point (somewhat informal) the purpose or aim of something:What's the point of all this violence? The point of the lesson is to compare the two countries.idea (somewhat informal) the purpose of something; someone's aim:The whole idea of going was so that we could meet her new boyfriend. What's the idea behind this assignment?point or idea?Point is a more negative word than idea. If you say What's the point…? you are suggesting that there is no point; if you say What's the idea…? you are genuinely asking a question. Point, but not idea, is used to talk about things you feel annoyed or unhappy about:There's no idea in… I don't see the idea of….Patterns with the aim/intention/idea >of>doing something somebody's intention/plan to do something to have a(n) purpose/aim/intention/plan/point to achieve a(n) purpose/aimIdioms
    for all intents and purposes
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    in the effects that something has, if not in reality; almost completely By 1981 the docks had, for all intents and purposes, closed. The two items are, for all intents and purposes, identical.
    for (all) practical purposes
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    used when you are stating what the reality of a situation is There's still another ten minutes of the game to go, but for practical purposes it's already over.
    not by accident; deliberately He did it on purpose, knowing it would annoy her.
    to little/no purpose (formal)
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    with little/no useful effect or result The government had spent a lot on education but to little or no purpose.
See the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary entry: purpose