AskDefine | Define key

Dictionary Definition

key adj
1 serving as an essential component; "a cardinal rule"; "the central cause of the problem"; "an example that was fundamental to the argument"; "computers are fundamental to modern industrial structure" [syn: cardinal, central, fundamental, primal]
2 effective; producing a desired effect; "the operative word" [syn: operative]


1 metal device shaped in such a way that when it is inserted into the appropriate lock the lock's mechanism can be rotated
2 something crucial for explaining; "the key to development is economic integration"
3 pitch of the voice; "he spoke in a low key"
4 any of 24 major or minor diatonic scales that provide the tonal framework for a piece of music [syn: tonality] [ant: atonality]
5 a kilogram of a narcotic drug; "they were carrying two keys of heroin"
6 a winged often one-seed indehiscent fruit as of the ash or elm or maple [syn: samara, key fruit]
7 United States lawyer and poet who wrote a poem after witnessing the British attack on Baltimore during the War of 1812; the poem was later set to music and entitled `The Star-Spangled Banner' (1779-1843) [syn: Francis Scott Key]
8 a coral reef off the southern coast of Florida [syn: cay, Florida keys]
9 (basketball) a space (including the foul line) in front of the basket at each end of a basketball court; usually painted a different color from the rest of the court; "he hit a jump shot from the top of the key"; "he dominates play in the paint" [syn: paint]
10 a list of answers to a test; "some students had stolen the key to the final exam"
11 a list of words or phrases that explain symbols or abbreviations
12 a generic term for any device whose possession entitles the holder to a means of access; "a safe-deposit box usually requires two keys to open it"
13 mechanical device used to wind another device that is driven by a spring (as a clock) [syn: winder]
14 the central building block at the top of an arch or vault [syn: keystone, headstone]
15 a lever that actuates a mechanism when depressed


1 identify as in botany or biology, for example [syn: identify, discover, key out, distinguish, describe, name]
2 provide with a key; "We were keyed after the locks were changed in the building"
3 vandalize a car by scratching the sides with a key; "His new Mercedes was keyed last night in the parking lot"
4 regulate the musical pitch of
5 harmonize with or adjust to; "key one's actions to the voters' prevailing attitude"

User Contributed Dictionary



  • , /kiː/, /ki:/
  • Rhymes with: -iː
  • Homophones: cay (one pronunciation), quay

Etymology 1

From cæg.


  1. An object designed to open and close a lock.
  2. An object designed to fit between two other objects (such as a shaft and a wheel) in a mechanism and maintain the orientation between them.
  3. A crucial step or requirement.
    the key to solving this problem...
    the key to winning this game
  4. A guide explaining the symbols or terminology of a map or chart.
    The key says that A stands for the accounting department.
  5. One of several small, usually square buttons on a typewriter or computer keyboard, most of which generally correspond to a particular character.
    Press the Escape key.
  6. One of a number of rectangular moving parts on a piano or musical keyboard, each causing a particular sound or note to be produced.
  7. One of various levers on a musical instrument used to select notes, such as a lever opening a hole on a woodwind.
  8. A hierarchical scale of musical notes on which a composition is based
    the key of B-flat major
  9. A device used to transmit Morse code.
  10. A piece of information (e.g. a passphrase) used to encode or decode a message or messages.
  11. : In a database, a field of a relation constrained to be unique.
  12. : In a database, a field in a record that is used as a search argument (but is not necessarily unique).
  13. : A value that uniquely identifies an entry in an associative array.
  14. : The free-throw lane together with the circle surrounding the freethrow line, the freethrow lane having formerly been narrower, giving the area the shape of a skeleton key hole.
    He shoots from the top of the key.
  15. : kilogram
device designed to open and close a lock
object used to maintain the orientation between two others
crucial step
button on a typewriter or computer keyboard
  • Czech: klávesa
  • Danish: tast
  • Dutch: toets
  • Finnish: näppäin
  • French: touche
  • German: Taste
  • Greek: πλήκτρο
  • Hebrew: מקש (makash)
  • Hungarian: billentyű
  • Italian: tasto
  • Japanese: キー (kī)
  • Lithuanian: klavišas
  • Norwegian: tast
  • Persian: (keleed)
  • Polish: klawisz
  • Portuguese: tecla
  • Russian: клавиша (kláviša)
  • Slovene: tipka
  • Spanish: tecla
  • Swedish: tangent, knapp
  • West Frisian: kaai, toets
part of a piano or musical keyboard
  • Czech: klávesa
  • Danish: tangent
  • Dutch: toets
  • Finnish: kosketin
  • French: touche
  • German: Taste
  • Greek: πλήκτρο
  • Hebrew: קליד (kalíd)
  • Italian: tasto
  • Japanese: (けん ken)
  • Lithuanian: klavišas
  • Norwegian: tangent
  • Persian: (keleed)
  • Polish: klawisz
  • Russian: клавиша (kláviša)
  • Slovene: tipka
  • Spanish: tecla
  • Swedish: tangent
scale of musical notes
device used to transmit Morse code
cryptography: piece of information used to encode or decode
computing: field of a database constrained to be unique
  • Czech: klíč
  • Danish: nøgle
  • Finnish: avain, avainkenttä
  • French: clef, clé
  • German: Schlüssel
  • Portuguese: chave
  • Russian: ключ
  • Spanish: clave
  • West Frisian: kaai
computing: field in a record used as a search argument
  • Danish: nøgle
  • Finnish: avain, avainkenttä
  • French: clef, clé
  • German: Schlüssel
  • Hebrew: מפתח (maftekha)
  • Portuguese: chave
  • Russian: ключ
  • Spanish: clave
  • Swedish: nyckel
computing: value uniquely identifying entry in associative array
  • Czech: klíč
  • Danish: nøgle
  • Finnish: avain
  • French: clef, clé
  • German: Schlüssel
  • Hebrew: מפתח (maftekha)
  • Hungarian: kulcs
  • Russian: ключ
  • Swedish: nyckel
in basketball
small guide explaining symbols or terminology
See also


  1. Indispensable.
    He is the key player for his soccer team.
    He is the key witness.
  2. Important, salient.
    She makes several key points


  1. To fit (a lock) with a key.
  2. To fit (pieces of a mechanical assembly) with a key to maintain the orientation between them.
  3. (telegraphy and radio telegraphy) To depress (a telegraph key).
  4. (radio) To operate (the transmitter switch of a two-way radio).
  5. : (more usually to key in) To enter (information) by typing on a keyboard or keypad.
    Our instructor told us to key in our user IDs.
  6. To use a key as a tool of convenience.
    He keyed the car that had taken his parking spot.
Derived terms
fit (a lock) with a key
fit (pieces of a mechanical assembly) with a key
telegraphy: depress (a telegraph key)
radio: operate (transmitter switch of a two-way radio)
computing: enter (information)
  • Finnish: syöttää, näppäillä, kirjoittaa
  • Portuguese: digitar
  • Russian: вводить (vvodít’)

Etymology 2

Variant of cay, from cayo.

Alternative spellings


  1. One of a string of small islands.
    "the Florida Keys"
small island
  • Lithuanian: approxim. salelė
  • Spanish: cayo
  • Swedish: approx. skär


Soranî Kurdish



Extensive Definition

Key may refer to:
  • Key (instrument)—musical instruments have keys for tuning and keys for playing
  • Key (music), a set of notes
  • Key signature, in musical notation(s)
  • Clef, the symbol that assigns note names to the lines and spaces of the musical staff
  • Key, a map legend or caption
  • Key Island, Tasmania, Australia
  • Cay—pronounced "key" and often spelled that way—a small, low island
    • Florida Keys, an archipelago of about 1700 such islands in the southeast United States
  • Key frame, a frame made by an animator from which other frames are derived
  • Key light, the primary light source that illuminates an image or scene
  • Key plate, a plate which prints the detail in an image, often using the color black
  • Black, in the CMYK color model
  • Key (comics), a DC Comics supervillain
  • Keyblade, a key-shaped weapon used by Sora, the main character of the Kingdom Hearts series

See also

key in Arabic: مفتاح
key in Catalan: Clau
key in German: Schlüssel (Begriffsklärung)
key in Spanish: Clave
key in French: Key
key in Italian: Chiave
key in Hebrew: מפתח
key in Macedonian: Клуч
key in Dutch: Sleutel
key in Japanese: キー
key in Norwegian: Nøkkel (andre betydninger)
key in Polish: Klucz
key in Portuguese: Chave (desambiguação)
key in Russian: Ключ
key in Serbian: Кључ
key in Finnish: Avain (täsmennyssivu)
key in Thai: คีย์
key in Chinese: Key

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

French pitch, Rasputin, Svengali, TelAutography, Teletype, Teletype network, Teletyping, VIP, access, accommodate, accord, achromatism, adapt, adjust, adjust to, aerophone, ait, amplification, archipelago, assimilate, atoll, attune, axial, bad influence, bang, bar, barricade, batten, batten down, bell, big wheel, bilingual text, bolt, bottle opener, button, button up, can opener, cast, catchword, cay, centermost, central, centralized, centric, centroidal, centrosymmetric, choke, choke off, chromatism, chromism, church key, clap, clarification, classical pitch, clavis, close, close up, closed-circuit telegraphy, clue, code, color, color balance, color harmony, color scheme, coloration, coloring, complexion, concentrated, constrict, contain, continental island, contract, coordinate, coral head, coral island, coral reef, corkscrew, court, cover, crib, critical, crucial, cue, cue word, cut to, decipherment, decoding, decorator color, depth, description, dominant, double reed, duplex telegraphy, electricity, embouchure, eminence grise, equalize, essential, evidence, explanation, explication, facsimile telegraph, faithful translation, fasten, fit, five-percenter, fix, fold, fold up, free translation, frequency, friend at court, gear to, geocentric, gloss, glossary, good influence, gray eminence, guide, harmonize, heavyweight, height, hidden hand, high pitch, hint, holm, homologate, homologize, horn, hot lead, hue, humor, important, indication, indicator, influence, influence peddler, influencer, ingroup, insularity, interlinear, interlinear translation, interrupter, intimation, island, island group, islandology, isle, islet, key signature, key to, key word, keynote, kingmaker, latch, latchkey, latchstring, lead, legend, level, lip, lobby, lobbyist, lock, lock out, lock up, loose translation, lords of creation, low pitch, main, major, major key, make plumb, make uniform, man of influence, manipulator, master key, measure, mediant, metaphrase, middle, middlemost, midmost, minor, mood, mouthpiece, multiplex telegraphy, natural color, necessary, new philharmonic pitch, news ticker, note, occlude, oceanic island, omphalic, open sesame, opener, padlock, pallor, paraphrase, passkey, password, pedal point, philharmonic pitch, philosophical pitch, pipe, pitch, pivotal, plumb, pony, powers that be, pressure group, proportion, put in tune, quadruplex telegraphy, railroad telegraphy, receiver, reconcile, rectify, reed, reef, register, regulate, restatement, rewording, right, sandbank, sandbar, scent, seal, seal off, seal up, secure, sender, set, set right, shade, shut, shut the door, shut up, similarize, simplex telegraphy, single-current telegraphy, sinister influence, skeleton key, skin color, slam, slide, snap, sounder, special interests, special-interest group, spoor, squeeze shut, standard pitch, stock ticker, strangle, style, subdominant, submarine telegraphy, submediant, subtonic, suggestion, supertonic, sync, synchronize, tailor, telegraphics, telegraphy, teleprinter, teletypewriter, teletypewriting, telex, telltale, tenor, the Establishment, ticker, ticket, timbre, tin opener, tinct, tincture, tinge, tint, tip-off, tonality, tone, tonic, tonic key, tooter, trace, transcription, translation, transliteration, transmitter, trim to, trot, true, true up, tune, typotelegraph, typotelegraphy, umbilical, undercolor, valve, very important person, vestige, vital, wheeler-dealer, whiff, wind, wind instrument, wire service, wire-puller, zip up, zipper
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