From Middle English scannen (to mark off verse to show metrical structure), from earlier *scanden, from Late Latin scandere (to scan verse), from Classical Latin scandō (I climb, rise, mount), from Proto-Indo-European *skend- (to jump, dart, climb, scale, scan).


  • IPA(key): /skæn/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -æn


scan (third-person singular simple present scans, present participle scanning, simple past and past participle scanned)

  1. (transitive) To examine sequentially, carefully, or critically; to scrutinize; to behold closely. [from 16th C.]
    She scanned the passage carefully but could not find what she was looking for.
    • 1927-29, M.K. Gandhi, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, translated 1940 by Mahadev Desai, Part I, Chapter ii:
      Yet the incident did not in the least diminish my respect for my teacher. I was by nature blind to the faults of elders. Later I came to know of many other failings of this teacher, but my regard for him remained the same. For I had learnt to carry out the orders of elders, not to scan their actions.
    • 2020 December 2, Paul Bigland, “My weirdest and wackiest Rover yet”, in Rail, page 68:
      As the 1857 to Manchester Piccadilly rolls in, I scan the windows and realise there are plenty of spare seats, so I hop aboard. The train is a '221'+'220' combo to allow for social distancing - a luxury on an XC train as normally you're playing sardines, so I make the most of it.
  2. (transitive) To look about for; to look over quickly. [from 19th C.]
    He scanned the horizon.
    1. (computing, transitive) To inspect, analyse or go over, often to find something.
      to scan the hard drive for errors
    2. (computing, transitive) To perform lexical analysis; to tokenize.
  3. (computing, transitive) To create a digital copy of an image using a scanner.
    to scan a photograph
    Pencil drawings don't scan very well.
  4. (computing, transitive) To read with an electronic device.
    to scan a barcode
    to scan a QR code
  5. (obsolete, transitive, originally) To mount by steps; to go through with step by step.
  6. (poetry, transitive) To read or mark so as to show a specific metre. [from 14th C.]
    to scan verse
    1. (intransitive) To conform to a metrical structure.
      • 1998, Milton Acorn, Cedric Smith, James Deahl, editor, The Road to Charlottetown: A Play[1], UnMon Northland:
        You're right, sir, it doesn't scan very well in the English, but in the Gaelic it's sheer poetry. Have you the Gaelic?

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scan (plural scans)

  1. Close investigation. [from 1700s]
  2. (computing) An instance of scanning.
    The operators vacated the room during the scan.
  3. (computing) The result or output of a scanning process.
    The doctors looked at the scans and made a diagnosis.


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