Merriam-Webster Logo
  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Scrabble
  • Spanish Central
  • Learner's Dictionary


noun es·sence \ˈe-sən(t)s\

Simple Definition of essence

  • : the basic nature of a thing : the quality or qualities that make a thing what it is

  • : a substance that contains in very strong form the special qualities (such as the taste and smell) of the thing from which it is taken

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of essence

  1. 1 a :  the permanent as contrasted with the accidental element of being b :  the individual, real, or ultimate nature of a thing especially as opposed to its existence <a painting that captures the essence of the land> c :  the properties or attributes by means of which something can be placed in its proper class or identified as being what it is

  2. 2 :  something that exists :  entity

  3. 3 a (1) :  a volatile substance or constituent (as of perfume) (2) :  a constituent or derivative possessing the special qualities (as of a plant or drug) in concentrated form; also :  a preparation of such an essence or a synthetic substitute b :  odor, perfume

  4. 4 :  one that possesses or exhibits a quality in abundance as if in concentrated form <she was the essence of punctuality>

  5. 5 :  the most significant element, quality, or aspect of a thing or person <the essence of the issue>

in essence

  1. :  in or by its very nature :  essentially, basically <was in essence an honest person>

of the essence

  1. :  of the utmost importance <time is of the essence>

Examples of essence in a sentence

  1. The perennial debate about nature and nurture—which is the more potent shaper of the human essence?—is perennially rekindled. —Matt Ridley, Time, 2 June 2003

  2. In essence, the positivists were the first sociologists, rejecting both superstition and metaphysics and studying behavior as a natural phenomenon that could be perfected. —Stephan Talty, Mulatto America, 2003

  3. I had come to Orange Cove on a statewide tour, looking for the essence of Latino life in a changing California and a good bowl of the Mexican stew … —Joe Rodriguez, San Jose Mercury News, 20 May 2003

  4. The essence of love is unselfishness.

  5. The book's illustrations capture the essence of the story.

Origin and Etymology of essence

Middle English essencia, from Latin essentia, from esse to be — more at is

First Known Use: 14th century

ESSENCE Defined for Kids


noun es·sence \ˈe-səns\

Definition of essence for Students

  1. 1 :  the basic part of something <Freedom is the essence of democracy.>

  2. 2 :  a substance made from a plant or drug and having its special qualities

  3. 3 :  1perfume 1

Medical Dictionary


noun es·sence \ˈes-ən(t)s\

Medical Definition of essence

  1. 1:  a substance considered to possess in high degree the predominant qualities of a natural product (as a plant or drug) from which it is extracted (as by distillation or infusion)

  2. 2a:  essential oilb:  an alcoholic solution especially of an essential oil <essence of peppermint>c:  an artificial preparation (as an alcoholic solution of one or more esters) used especially in flavoringd:  elixir

Law Dictionary


noun es·sence \ˈes-əns\

Legal Definition of essence

  1. 1 :  the real or ultimate nature of a thing :  the properties that make a thing what it is <his award is legitimate only so long as it draws its essence from the collective bargaining agreement — United Steel Workers v. Enterprise Wheel and Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593 (1960)> — see also essence test

  2. 2 :  the predominant purpose of a thing <the essence of the contract>

of the essence

  1. :  of the utmost importance; specifically :  so material in nature that failure to satisfy its requirements constitutes a breach of contract <time is of the essence>

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up essence? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


having marks of different colors

Get Word of the Day daily email!


Take a 3-minute break and test your skills!

  • monster-werewolf-photo
  • Which is a synonym of werewolf?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.