Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • transitive v. To make soft or softer.
  • transitive v. To undermine or reduce the strength, morale, or resistance of.
  • transitive v. To make less harsh, strident, or critical: softened the last paragraph of the letter.
  • intransitive v. To become soft or softer.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • v. To make something soft or softer.
  • v. To undermine the morale of someone (often soften up).
  • v. To make less harsh
  • v. To become soft or softer

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • transitive v. To make soft or more soft.
  • transitive v. To render less hard; -- said of matter.
  • transitive v. To mollify; to make less fierce or intractable.
  • transitive v. To palliate; to represent as less enormous.
  • transitive v. To compose; to mitigate; to assuage.
  • transitive v. To make less harsh, less rude, less offensive, or less violent, or to render of an opposite quality.
  • transitive v. To make less glaring; to tone down.
  • transitive v. To make tender; to make effeminate; to enervate.
  • transitive v. To make less harsh or grating, or of a quality the opposite.
  • intransitive v. To become soft or softened, or less rude, harsh, severe, or obdurate.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To become soft or less hard.
  • To become less rude, harsh, severe, or cruel; grow less obstinate or obdurate; become more susceptible of humane feelings and tenderness; relent.
  • To pass by soft, imperceptible degrees; melt; blend.
  • To make soft, or more soft.
  • To mollify; make less fierce or intractable; make more susceptible of humane or fine feelings: as, to soften a hard heart; to soften savage natures.
  • To make tender; make effeminate; enervate: as, troops softened by luxury.
  • To make less harsh or severe, less rude, less offensive or violent; mitigate: as, to soften an expression.
  • To make less glaring; tone down; make less sharp or harsh: as, to soften the coloring of a picture; to soften the outline of something.
  • To make less strong or intense in sound; make less loud; make smooth to the ear: as, to soften the voice.
  • To remove from (natural water) the hardness due to the presence of salts of calcium or magnesium in solution. In the case of temporary hardness, boiling the water or adding to it a carefully determined proportion of calcium hydroxid is used to produce softening; in the case of permanent hardness, sodium carbonate, not in too large excess, may be added. See hardness, 2.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. make less severe or harsh
  • v. become soft or softer
  • v. lessen in force or effect
  • v. make (images or sounds) soft or softer
  • v. make soft or softer
  • v. protect from impact
  • v. give in, as to influence or pressure

Etymologies

From Middle English soft +‎ en (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • I felt my expression soften as I looked over at the boy again, but I also saw his jaw tighten and his eyes narrow at the sight of my sympathy, and so I struggled to conceal it.

    Confession

  • Georgia watched the faintest flush of color spread across Laura’s cheeks, watched her expression soften just a little.

    Moon Dance

  • Push a bit harder and you might see her expression soften, and hear her speak of having been compelled, so much so that nothing else had mattered.

    John R. Coats: Does a Calling Have to Be Religious?

  • They're going to have to, I hate to use the word soften but it can't be a hard, hard news cast.

    CNN Transcript Apr 5, 2006

  • Scully glanced over at Mulder in time to see his expression soften into a tender smile.

    An American Tragedy

  • Kirk let his expression soften a little, and added, "Anyone who wishes to volunteer an opinion is at liberty to do so."

    Spock Must Die

  • Across the large room, Michael watched his sister’s face — saw her heart-stopping smile, saw her expression soften, almost glow.

    The Ideal Bride

  • Forcing her expression to soften, she pushed the planks open.

    Savor Me Slowly

  • BLITZER: But any kind of war would begin with extensive air power to so-call soften up the battlefield.

    CNN Transcript Nov 1, 2002

  • He was satisfied to see the security chiefs expression soften a little as her jaw muscles loosened.

    Miracle Workers

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