Meaning of “key” in the English Dictionary

"key" in British English

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keynoun [ C ]

uk /kiː/ us /kiː/

key noun [ C ] (LOCK)

A1 a piece of metal that has been cut into a special shape and is used for opening or closing a lock, starting a car engine, etc.:

car/door keys

More examples

  • She fumbled around in her handbag, looking for her key.
  • I heard someone turn a key in the lock.
  • Give me the car keys - you're in no fit state to drive.
  • She suddenly remembered (that) her keys were in her other bag.
  • Please hand in your keys at reception on your departure from the hotel.

key noun [ C ] (PART)

B2 any of the set of moving parts that you press with your fingers on a computer keyboard, or musical instrument to produce letters, numbers, symbols, or musical notes

Examples

  • If you press this key, the computer screen will clear .
  • Press and hold down the control key while you press '9'.
  • Press the return key twice to leave a blank line.
  • Use this key to toggle between the two typefaces.
  • He ran his fingers over the piano keys.

Idiom(s)

keyadjective

uk /kiː/ us /kiː/

B2 very important and having a lot of influence on other people or things:

She was a key figure in the international art world.
a key factor in tackling the problem

More examples

  • I think there is one key fact that you have overlooked.
  • The key witness for the prosecution was offered police protection after she received death threats.
  • The control of inflation is a key component of the government's economic policy.
  • Delegation of responsibility is a key part of a manager's job.
  • The economy is regarded as the key factor which will determine the outcome of the general election.

keyverb [ T ]

uk /kiː/ us /kiː/

to intentionally damage a car by scratching its paint using a key:

Someone keyed his Porsche.

Phrasal verb(s)

(Definition of “key” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"key" in American English

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keynoun

us /ki/

key noun (METAL SHAPE)

[ C ] a piece of metal cut into a special shape to fit into a lock where it can be turned to open something, such as a door, or to start something, such as a car engine:

I put the key into the ignition.

key noun (MOVABLE PART)

[ C ] any of the set of movable parts that you press with your fingers on a computer or other machine to produce letters, numbers, or symbols, or on a musical instrument to produce sound:

piano keys
Press the shift key to write in capital letters.

key noun (IMPORTANT PART)

[ U ] the most important part of achieving something or explaining a situation:

Revision is the key to good writing.

key noun (MUSICAL NOTES)

music [ C ] a set of musical notes based on one particular note:

the key of C

key noun (LIST OF SYMBOLS)

[ C ] a list of the symbols used in a map or book with explanations of what they mean:

The key is printed at the bottom of the page.
key
adjective us /ki/

Deception is a key element of military strategy.

(Definition of “key” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)

"key" in Business English

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keynoun [ C ]

uk /kiː/ us

IT any of the set of moving parts that you press with your fingers on a computer, etc. to produce letters, numbers, or symbols:

Press any key to continue.

GRAPHS & CHARTS a list of the symbols used in a map, chart, or book with explanations of what they mean:

For an explanation of these symbols, see key below.
the key (to sth)

the best or only way to achieve something:

The key is to prioritize your work, and to keep to your schedule.
Hard work is the key to success.
A focus on training is often the key to unlocking potential.

keyadjective

uk /kiː/ us

very important and having a lot of influence on people or things:

The control of inflation is a key component of the government's economic policy.
a key factor
key to sth Education is key to the country's success.
Getting the budget right is absolutely key.

keyverb [ I or T ]

uk /kiː/ us

IT to put information into a computer or a machine using a keyboard, or to spend time doing this work:

All the data will then need to be keyed.
She spends most of her time keying.

Phrasal verb(s)

(Definition of “key” from the Cambridge Business English Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)