I am looking for a single word describing something that takes on shape slowly (such as a silhouette in the night that gets more defined the closer you get to it).

It would be great if the word could be used for the process of getting to know someone better (their character would be taking on shape slowly the more you get to know them).

  • Interminable. Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 21:31
  • Words for slow physical, chemical and biological processes, but that I have trouble putting in the context of "getting to know someone better": relax, settle, anneal, cure, set, harden, cement, ossify, petrify? My favourite in this list is cement ("Over the years, my opinion of John Doe has cemented"). All of these, however, convey a definite slowness. Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 1:45

21 Answers 21


The first option that came to mind for me was coalesce:

1: to grow together

2a : to unite into a whole : fuse

3: to arise from the combination of distinct elements

  • Beautiful word, sadly I can't use it as it is not common enough. Thanks!
    – Graveto
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 22:20
  • Graveto, How do you figure this is anything but the best word?
    – Yeshe
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 8:55
  • @Yeshe please look up my comment on crystallize to see why I chose crystallize over coalesce. :)
    – Graveto
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 12:30
  • 2
    @Yeshe Because he didn't do any research. He hadn't personally heard of "coalesce" and didn't realize it's not only more common than "crystallize" but much more common and appropriate in this context. (The vast majority of uses of "crystallize" are for the geological process, not anything metaphorical.)
    – lly
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 13:35
  • @lly You are definitely right. I personally prefer crystallize but for reasons that were not mentioned in the question. Therefore I find it reasonable to choose coalesce as the new answer instead. Thank you very much for the effort.
    – Graveto
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 12:15


to assume definite or concrete form


For years, I wondered who had signed up for all of the slots, and eventually a character started to crystallize in my imagination.

(from Real Thrills And High Art In A Poignant Page-Turner Of A Novel by Susan Cheever)

There may be an even better word for it, only it seems to escape me just now.

  • 1
    I do not think this is correct; it seems to be lacking the "slowless" aspect. Other answers that I consider better: manifest, evolve, take shape. Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 23:08
  • 1
    @PascalvKooten Things can crystalize slowly. The only thing off about the word is its clarity: it suggests that at the end of the process, there is a hard, pure outline. That said, between this and coalesce, this question seems pretty well answered. Your answers are either not a single word or have nothing to do with taking shape: manifest is already clear and evolve concerns the change from a former shape, not the assumption of a new one.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 5:15
  • That said, because of its firmness, this word doesn't really work for learning about someone's personality unless they are utterly and implacably set in their ways. Odd @Graveto thought this one was better than coalesce or emerge.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 5:18
  • @lly I already commented one reason on "coalesce". There were actual several reasons for choosing crystallize over coalesce : 1. Crystallize is more of a common word than coalesce (Bonus points!) 2. Coalesce lacks a visual association that crystallize has 3. Crystallize works very well in german too - coalesce doesn't (I know I didn't mention it working in german as well, but it sill affected my decision)
    – Graveto
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 12:27
  • @Graveto No, coalesce is much more common than crystallize, given that they're equally common and crystallize is used for the geological process the vast majority of the time. Coalesce is far more visual than crystallize, given that the objects are actually coalescing and not remotely crystalline. It's your question and you can bring in philo-Germanism if you like, but this was the wrong call.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 13:41

Emerge (MWD)

  1. to become manifest: become known new problems emerged
  2. to rise from or as if from an enveloping fluid : come out into view a diver emerging from the water
  3. to rise from an obscure or inferior position or condition someone must emerge as a leader
  4. to come into being through evolution
  • I like emerge, although I think there is a small, yet important difference between manifestation and transition - one sounds a lot faster/instantenous than the other!
    – Graveto
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 22:19
  • Works as long as the effect is similar to something rising from the depths of water. It works better than crystalize for personalities, yeah.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 5:16

"resolve", opposite of "dissolve". "the outlines of his true character resolved only gradually..."

  • Not quite what I was looking for, mainly because I associate resolving something with a problem existing beforehand. Thanks!
    – Graveto
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 22:18
  • 2
    I'd say this meaning is quite common in scientific contexts, but not so much elsewhere. You can resolve things better if your imaging system has more resolution.
    – user1635
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 6:16
  • @Graveto but also think about optical illusions where you don't see it at first, you have to stare a while before it resolves, but it's not really "there", it's a matter of perception, e.g.illusions.org/dp/1-91.htm
    – user175542
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 17:23
  • or these: m.huffpost.com/us/entry/3307500
    – user175542
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 17:26

Materialise (Materialize if you are American). Not really so applicable to a relationship developing but ok for a silhouette resolving...

"Materialize: to come into perceptible existence; appear; become actual or real; be realized or carried out

Source - "materialise. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/materialise (accessed: April 16, 2017).

  • 2
    Definition and source of the definition is very much appreciated.
    – vickyace
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 6:38
  • I like it! Very close to crystallize.
    – Graveto
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 22:22

How about take shape?


take shape: assume a distinct form; develop into something definite or tangible. Example:‘the past few months have seen the state's health insurance legislation begin to take shape’

Synonyms: become clear, become definite, become tangible, crystallize, gel, come together, fall into place.

The Free Dictionary lists takes shape as an idiom, which is kind of like one word ... if you're willing to stretch it. If not, I'll go with gel, which hasn't been mentioned yet.

Addendum: More examples from OD in response to @Tonepoet's comment. These examples generally show that taking shape occurs over time, gradually, slowly, in the OP's sense. Taking shape does not occur immediately or abruptly; it implicitly requires time, as per emphasis added and prevalence of various forms of "begin".

‘The party, now in its 12th year, helped residents build a sense of community back when the development was just taking shape.’

‘The question that remains, however, is what alternative narrative takes shape where the developmental trajectory of the narrative of self-making leaves off.’

‘As we closed in on the far shore, a small town began to take shape.’

‘Alongside the secular model of marriage, an ecclesiastical model is beginning to take shape and definition.’

‘A reversal of that conventional wisdom began taking shape in the early nineties, following the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound.’

‘Elation replaced doubt when the schemes began to take shape.’

‘While compositions on their previous effort had time to develop and take shape, here they are set to impact at once.’

‘Here's a look at some of the other developments taking shape around town.’

‘Globally, ambitious efforts to develop wind power are beginning to take shape.’

‘The outlines of another strategy also began to take shape.’

  • 1
    If phrasal verbs count as one word, I would also suggest "come together".
    – user1359
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 23:13
  • @user1359 Agreed. Thx. Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 1:51
  • 1
    Aside from not being a single word, it is also something the O.P. is likely to have already considered and might not have the semantic nuance sought. Do you have any evidence to suggest that "take shape" is implicitly slow unless otherwise modified, because I've seen adverbial modifiers of speed, namely quickly and slowly, applied to it. Granted, it is nowhere near the same order of magnitude as the phrasal verb itself, but it'd seem pointless to modify it with quickly or slowly in any case unless it was implicitly neutral speed.
    – Tonepoet
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 16:15
  • I agree with "take shape" fitting my description - but sadly I was looking for one word and one word only! Thanks for the effort though!
    – Graveto
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 22:21
  • @Graveto I get it. No issue here. Hope you got what you want. Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 22:54

Congeal might also be an option:

con·geal kənˈjēl/

  1. take shape or coalesce, especially to form a satisfying whole. "the ballet failed to congeal as a single oeuvre"
  • Very interesting word, thanks for the addition! Seems to be very uncommon though - still nice!
    – Graveto
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 22:22
  • "Over the course of our relationship, her personality began to congeal before me"... isn't wrong but it's certainly unpleasant.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 5:19
  • It was the first word to come to my mind but it strikes me as having an icky connotation. Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 14:24
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – user1359
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 13:33

Develop may work for you as well

MWD (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/develop):

transitive verb

1b: to make visible or manifest
2b: to create or produce especially by deliberate effort over time
4a: to cause to evolve or unfold gradually

intransitive verb

3: to come into being gradually



grow by accumulation or coalescence.

  • form (a composite whole or a collection of things) by gradual accumulation: "the collection of art he had accreted was to be sold"

This is not the best fit for the scenario given in the OP, but the verb struck me upon reading the OP title.

Example usage:

After many sessions, the features of his psychosis accreted into something recognizable: sociopathy.

  • I'm upvoting your answer. Still, it's a good practice, when answering a question of this sort, to come up with a couple of sample sentences.
    – Ricky
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 2:09
  • @Ricky Example added.
    – bishop
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 2:55
  • 1
    Splendid! I wish I could give you a second upvote, but that's not allowed, alas.
    – Ricky
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 3:06

OP: It would be great if the word could be used for the process of getting to know someone better (their character would be taking on shape slowly the more you get to know them).

Blossom a peak period or stage of development

"Blossom" evokes flowers and gentle development during a special time of growth.
Flowers and friendship are often use together, such as:

Still — in a way — nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small — we haven't time — and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
Georgia O'Keeffe

(This quote, when given to a friend, has its gotcha factor - rambling about flowers and then - there it is - an endearment.)

  • 1
    Yes, I think this is a good word for a relationship. It suggests a young tentative communication unfolding into a beautiful sharing of mutual understanding. e.g. ."The acquaintanceship thus formed, blossomed into friendship, and from that time, until Lord Tennyson's death, this friendship never lessened... " - from Life of Sir Henry Parkes, G.C.M.G.: Australian Statesman By Charles E. Lyne
    – PeterH
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 8:45

Grow or Evolve

Our friendship (grew, evolved) from common interests.

Evolve [Merrian-Webster, Dictionary.com]

  • verb (used with object), evolved, evolving.
    1. to develop gradually
  • verb (used without object), evolved, evolving.
    1. to come forth gradually into being; develop; undergo evolution

Grow [Merrian-Webster, Dictionary.com]

  • 6. to come to be by degrees; become:
  • I like evolve, grow not as much. Why do so many people give multiple answers ?
    – Tom22
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 3:02
  • @Tom22 Should I separate the two, and post two answers? They seem similar enough to be together, and StackExchange is rather insistent upon asking "Are you sure you want to add another answer? You could refine & improve your existing answer instead."
    – Xen2050
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 3:42

It's very basic but the verb usage of "form"


You might consider the word transition

"the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another"


Intensify, intensifies [dictionary.com][1] might work for both a silhouette and a relationship

to make more acute; strengthen or sharpen.

Consider also emanates and emanation--good for a ghost, perhaps not so good for a person.

to flow out, issue, or proceed, as from a source or origin; come forth; originate.


I think what you are looking for may be to refine which means:

"to make more fine, subtle, or precise, or to improve or perfect by pruning or polishing".

For example: My opinion of you is getting refined every day as I am getting to know you more


Realize it's not so befitting considering the requirement you raised in the second paragraph but my first instinct when I saw the question was to answer with the word primordial, provoked by my thoughts of the slow, sprawling transformation of early Earth.

A much more interesting fit though to my mind due to its commonality in our language and simultaneously a more expansive perspective of its definition:

Stew. Seems to me all of the below definitions of its use as a verb from Dictionary.com could easily be described as states of change resulting in a new form, tangible or intangible.

to undergo cooking by simmering or slow boiling.

Informal. to fret, worry, or fuss:
He stewed about his chaotic state of affairs all day.

to feel uncomfortable due to a hot, humid, stuffy atmosphere, as in a closed room; swelter.

Stumbled through this site in the past but your question prompted me to sign up with that, thought it was an interesting non-standard use of the word.


Warp. Although it means to twist out of shape, when used to describe a character of a person, it could mean transform into a new less appealing shape. Maybe transform can be used in a more neutral (ie, less negative) way.

  • Transform and warp both describe changing from an original, known version. That's not really what was being asked here.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 5:24
  • @lly, when it comes to a literary character, you often witness a transformation from an unknown to a fully-formed entity through a process of "getting to know them better". Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 8:30


"v.intr. 1. To evolve toward or reach full development" - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/mature

Example: "...the friendship matured over the years..." -
from Friends and Sisters: Letters Between Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown, 1846-93 by Lucy Stone, Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell, University of Illinois Press, 1987


An adjective for something that 'takes shape slowly' could be viscous.

Although this mainly refers to liquids that can't pour easily, for example honey, mud and crude oil all are a all viscous.

If you pour a viscous liquid on a flat table, it will indeed take shape slowly. You could use this metaphorically, I suppose like any other adjective in the English language however someone would need to have a very good grasp of the English language to understand.

With rarely-used words like these it may be best to simply take two simple words and combine them. I.e. just say slow-forming and everyone will understand perfectly.



Having a thick, sticky consistency between solid and liquid; having a high viscosity.

"viscous lava"

  • It's a different sense of take shape. OP meant within one's mind or vision, not physically.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 5:23

in·cho·ate inˈkōət,ˈinkəˌwāt/ adjective just begun and so not fully formed or developed; rudimentary. "a still inchoate democracy"

  • 1
    Please provide a citation for your quote, and please take the site tour
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 0:30
  • Thanks for posting, but inchoate describes the person when he can't really make them out. The question was asking for the word that means becoming less inchoate.
    – lly
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 5:21

simple word, common usage - sharpen (or a synonym of), could be applied to relationships I guess - our friendship sharpened as we got to know each other...

  • While the meaning of sharpen may be obvious to all, it is appreciated if you included a definition that relates to this discussion and mention a source.
    – vickyace
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 1:45
  • There are ways this word could work (digitally refining a somewhat blurry computer image, e.g.), but I wouldn't take a "sharpened" friendship as a good thing...
    – lly
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 5:22
  • lly, agreed, not a great adjective in that context. Vicky, apologies, I will inculde definitions in future posts. First visit :)
    – Steve F
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 13:36

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