1. a surviving mark, sign, or evidence of the former existence, influence, or action of some agent or event; vestige: traces of an advanced civilization among the ruins.
  2. a barely discernible indication or evidence of some quantity, quality, characteristic, expression, etc.: a trace of anger in his tone.
  3. an extremely small amount of some chemical component: a trace of copper in its composition.
  4. traces, the series of footprints left by an animal.
  5. the track left by the passage of a person, animal, or object: the trace of her skates on the ice.
  6. Meteorology. precipitation of less than 0.005 inches (0.127 mm).
  7. a trail or path, especially through wild or open territory, made by the passage of people, animals, or vehicles.
  8. engram.
  9. a tracing, drawing, or sketch of something.
  10. a lightly drawn line, as the record drawn by a self-registering instrument.
  11. Mathematics.
    1. the intersection of two planes, or of a plane and a surface.
    2. the sum of the elements along the principal diagonal of a square matrix.
    3. the geometric locus of an equation.
  12. the visible line or lines produced on the screen of a cathode-ray tube by the deflection of the electron beam.
  13. Linguistics. (in generative grammar) a construct that is phonologically empty but serves to mark the place in the surface structure of a sentence from which a noun phrase has been moved by a transformational operation.
  14. Obsolete. a footprint.

verb (used with object), traced, trac·ing.

  1. to follow the footprints, track, or traces of.
  2. to follow, make out, or determine the course or line of, especially by going backward from the latest evidence, nearest existence, etc.: to trace one’s ancestry to the Pilgrims.
  3. to follow (footprints, evidence, the history or course of something, etc.).
  4. to follow the course, development, or history of: to trace a political movement.
  5. to ascertain by investigation; find out; discover: The police were unable to trace his whereabouts.
  6. to draw (a line, outline, figure, etc.).
  7. to make a plan, diagram, or map of.
  8. to copy (a drawing, plan, etc.) by following the lines of the original on a superimposed transparent sheet.
  9. to mark or ornament with lines, figures, etc.
  10. to make an impression or imprinting of (a design, pattern, etc.).
  11. (of a self-registering instrument) to print in a curved, broken, or wavy-lined manner.
  12. to put down in writing.

verb (used without object), traced, trac·ing.

  1. to go back in history, ancestry, or origin; date back in time: Her family traces back to Paul Revere.
  2. to follow a course, trail, etc.; make one’s way.
  3. (of a self-registering instrument) to print a record in a curved, broken, or wavy-lined manner.


  1. either of the two straps, ropes, or chains by which a carriage, wagon, or the like is drawn by a harnessed horse or other draft animal.
  2. a piece in a machine, as a bar, transferring the movement of one part to another part, being hinged to each.

  1. kick over the traces, to throw off restraint; become independent or defiant: He kicked over the traces and ran off to join the navy.


  1. a mark or other sign that something has been in a place; vestige
  2. a tiny or scarcely detectable amount or characteristic
  3. a footprint or other indication of the passage of an animal or person
  4. any line drawn by a recording instrument or a record consisting of a number of such lines
  5. something drawn, such as a tracing
  6. mainly US a beaten track or path
  7. the postulated alteration in the cells of the nervous system that occurs as the result of any experience or learningSee also memory trace, engram
  8. geometry the intersection of a surface with a coordinate plane
  9. maths the sum of the diagonal entries of a square matrix
  10. linguistics a symbol inserted in the constituent structure of a sentence to mark the position from which a constituent has been moved in a generative process
  11. meteorol an amount of precipitation that is too small to be measured
  12. archaic a way taken; route


  1. (tr) to follow, discover, or ascertain the course or development of (something)to trace the history of China
  2. (tr) to track down and find, as by following a trail
  3. to copy (a design, map, etc) by drawing over the lines visible through a superimposed sheet of transparent paper or other material
  4. (tr often foll by out)
    1. to draw or delineate a plan or diagram ofshe spent hours tracing the models one at a time
    2. to outline or sketch (an idea, policy, etc)he traced out his scheme for the robbery
  5. (tr) to decorate with tracery
  6. (tr) to imprint (a design) on cloth, etc
  7. (usually foll by back) to follow or be followed to source; date backhis ancestors trace back to the 16th century
  8. archaic to make one’s way over, through, or along (something)


  1. either of the two side straps that connect a horse’s harness to the swingletree
  2. angling a length of nylon or, formerly, gut attaching a hook or fly to a line
  3. kick over the traces to escape or defy control

late 14c., “to make a plan or diagram,” from Old French trasser “delineate, score, trace, follow, pursue” (12c.), from Vulgar Latin *tractiare “delineate, score, trace” (cf. Spanish trazar “to trace, devise, plan out,” Italian tracciare “to follow by foot”), from Latin tractus “track, course,” literally “a drawing out,” from past participle stem of trahere “to pull, draw” (see tract (n.1)).

Meaning “to pass over” (a path, etc.) is attested from late 14c.; that of “track down, follow the trail of” is early 15c., from trace (n.1). Sense of “draw an outline of” is first recorded late 14c. Meaning “copy a drawing on a transparent sheet laid over it” is recorded from 1762. Related: Traced; tracing.


“straps or chains by which an animal pulls a vehicle,” c.1300, from earlier collective plural trays, from Old French traiz, plural of trait “strap for harnessing, act of drawing,” from Latin tractus “a drawing, track,” from stem of trahere “to pull, draw” (see tract (1)).


“track made by passage of a person or thing,” mid-13c., from Old French trace, back-formation from tracier (see trace (v.)). Scientific sense of “indication of minute presence in some chemical compound” is from 1827. Traces “vestiges” is from c.1400.

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