abstract

adjective
ab·​stract | \ ab-ˈstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) , ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

Definition of abstract

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1a : disassociated from any specific instance an abstract entity
b : difficult to understand : abstruse abstract problems
c : insufficiently factual : formal possessed only an abstract right
2 : expressing a quality apart from an object the word poem is concrete, poetry is abstract
3a : dealing with a subject in its abstract aspects : theoretical abstract science
b : impersonal, detached the abstract compassion of a surgeonTime
4 : having only intrinsic form with little or no attempt at pictorial representation or narrative content abstract painting

abstract

noun
ab·​stract | \ ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) , in sense 2 also ab-ˈstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

Definition of abstract (Entry 2 of 3)

1 : a summary of points (as of a writing) usually presented in skeletal form also : something that summarizes or concentrates the essentials of a larger thing or several things
2 : an abstract thing or state (see abstract entry 1)

abstract

verb
ab·​stract | \ ab-ˈstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) , ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) , in sense 3 usually ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \
abstracted; abstracting; abstracts

Definition of abstract (Entry 3 of 3)

transitive verb

1 : to make a summary or abstract of : summarize abstract an academic paper
2 : to draw away the attention of His imagination had so abstracted him that his name was called twice before he answered.— James Joyce
3 : steal, purloin She abstracted important documents from the safe.
5 : to consider apart from application to or association with a particular instance

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Other Words from abstract

Adjective

abstractly \ ab-​ˈstrak(t)-​lē How to pronounce abstract (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak(t)-​ \ adverb
abstractness \ ab-​ˈstrak(t)-​nəs How to pronounce abstract (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak(t)-​ \ noun

Verb

abstractable \ ab-​ˈstrak-​tə-​bəl How to pronounce abstract (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak-​ \ adjective
abstractor or abstracter \ ab-​ˈstrak-​tər How to pronounce abstract (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak-​ \ noun

The Crisscrossing Histories of Abstract and Extract

Adjective

Abstract is most frequently used as an adjective (“abstract ideas”) and a noun (“an abstract of the article”), but its somewhat less common use as a verb in English helps to clarify its Latin roots. The verb abstract is used to mean “summarize,” as in “abstracting an academic paper.” This meaning is a figurative derivative of the verb’s meanings “to remove” or “to separate.”

We trace the origins of abstract to the combination of the Latin roots ab-, a prefix meaning “from” or “away,” with the verb trahere, meaning “to pull” or “to draw.” The result was the Latin verb abstrahere, which meant “to remove forcibly” or “to drag away.” Its past participle abstractus had the meanings “removed,” “secluded,” “incorporeal,” and, ultimately, “summarized,” meanings which came to English from Medieval Latin.

Interestingly, the word passed from Latin into French with competing spellings as both abstract (closer to the Latin) and abstrait (which reflected the French form of abstrahere, abstraire), the spelling retained in modern French.

The idea of “removing” or “pulling away” connects abstract to extract, which stems from Latin through the combination of trahere with the prefix ex-, meaning “out of” or “away from.” Extract forms a kind of mirror image of abstract: more common as a verb, but also used as a noun and adjective. The adjective, meaning “derived or descended,” is now obsolete, as is a sense of the noun that overlapped with abstract, “summary.” The words intersected and have separated in modern English, but it’s easy to see that abstract applies to something that has been summarized, and summarized means “extracted from a larger work.”

Examples of abstract in a Sentence

Adjective It is true that the atrocities that were known remained abstract and remote, rarely acquiring the status of knee-buckling knowledge among ordinary Americans. Because the savagery of genocide so defies our everyday experience, many of us failed to wrap our minds around it. — Samantha Power, New York Times Book Review, 14 Mar. 2002 A glance into the classrooms of the Los Angeles public school system … fleshes out the abstract debates with the faces of children. — Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, 1997 I take my photographs and print them on a laser copying machine in the "photo" mode; the resulting image is more stark and abstract than a traditional photographic print, which tends to dominate the page regardless of the text. — Leslie Marmon Silko, Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, 1996 abstract ideas such as love and hate “Honesty” is an abstract word. The word “poem” is concrete, the word “poetry” is abstract. Noun an artist admired for his abstracts the scientist wrote a bare-bones abstract of his research and conclusions Verb … artists in the group put the emphasis on geometric abstraction rather than images abstracted from nature. — Robert Atkins, Art Spoke, 1993 … the Romantic project was to abstract from religion its essential "feeling" and leave contemptuously behind its traditional formulations. — Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture, 1969 … conscientiously and with great purity made the uncompromising effort to abstract his view of life into an art work … — Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself, 1959 … basic esthetic criteria and standards he has abstracted from long intimacy with time-tested masterpieces. — Aline B. Saarinen, New York Times Book Review, 7 Nov. 1954 Data for the study was abstracted from hospital records. personal problems abstracted him so persistently that he struggled to keep his mind on his work
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective At the time of the interview, the topic was abstract for host Soleil Ho – until her own grandfather got sick. Téa Francesca Price, San Francisco Chronicle, "Crying in H Mart with Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner," 3 May 2021 The result, though contested among fans of the show, is an Alina whose search for belonging is less abstract. Lauren Puckett, Harper's BAZAAR, "Netflix’s Shadow and Bone Gives Leigh Bardugo’s Books a Glittering Upgrade," 30 Apr. 2021 Unlike service, which is technical and easy to describe, hospitality is abstract, harder to define. New York Times, "What Is Hospitality? The Current Answer Doesn’t Work.," 13 Apr. 2021 The polling helps to underscore the emerging political challenge for Republicans, who have roundly praised infrastructure spending in the abstract but opposed the scope of Mr. Biden’s proposal and the tax increases that would fund it. New York Times, "Voters Like Biden Infrastructure Plan; G.O.P. Still Sees an Opening on Taxes," 15 Apr. 2021 The researchers are careful to emphasize their paper is still very abstract. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, "This Is the First Fusion Power Plant to Generate Net Electricity," 5 Apr. 2021 Something like appreciation of music or art is abstract and it can’t be expressed in specific words. Jeff Benjamin, Forbes, "I.M’s ‘Duality’ Makes Good On His Promise As A Global Hip-Hop Artist: ‘I’m Satisfied’," 11 Mar. 2021 What may seem like common sense to you may be more abstract to others. Tarot Astrologers, chicagotribune.com, "Daily horoscope for March 9, 2021," 9 Mar. 2021 This personal connection helps make real what can otherwise be much more abstract. Cameron Hickey, Wired, "TikTok Played a Key Role in MAGA Radicalization," 3 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun But a right that exists only in the abstract is difficult to protect. Eric Magnuson, Star Tribune, "Minnesota schools must aim higher with the Page amendment," 14 Mar. 2021 After all, most people would say that a perfect copy of a Mondrian abstract painted on your garage door is not the same as the one created by the artist. Gregory Barber, Wired, "NFTs Are Hot. So Is Their Effect on the Earth’s Climate," 6 Mar. 2021 Stability largely has been an abstract for Olynyk during his Heat tenure. Ira Winderman, sun-sentinel.com, "Kelly Olynyk’s time has come, Heat center hopes shot will follow; KZ Okpala details his ‘glitches’," 28 Feb. 2021 But a new paper in the journal Cognition suggests that people of all political stripes have surprisingly similar views about redistribution, at least in the abstract. Alison Gopnik, WSJ, "Our Sense of Fairness Is Beyond Politics," 21 Jan. 2021 To see repose, to see form moving toward the abstract. Nicole Krauss, Harper's Magazine, "Drawing From Life," 24 Nov. 2020 An abstract published in Neurology, meanwhile, looked at the POC MRI scanner’s use in stroke and brain bleeds and concluded that the low-field MRI system appeared safe and viable in a complex ICU environment. Carolyn Barber, Scientific American, "An Emerging Tool for COVID Times: The Portable MRI," 12 Nov. 2020 As with everything Trump, who has so often been ridiculous and childish and wrong and so seldom been held accountable, his reaction to the results was much easier to laugh at in the abstract. David Roth, The New Republic, "The Littlest Prince," 17 Nov. 2020 Based on the abstract of the trial submitted to the appellate court, the rules for evidence seemed oddly relaxed; in one instance a Wikipedia page was cited. Madeleine Schwartz, The New York Review of Books, "Criminalizing a Constitutional Right," 4 Nov. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The low-code tools on which both groups increasingly rely are expected to abstract away the inherent complexities of enterprise application development. Asanka Abeysinghe, Forbes, "Optimizing Low-Code Tools For Enterprise Application Development," 11 Mar. 2021 To unify different identity systems' APIs, data models, user access policies and feature sets in a consistent fashion, the identity fabric must be able to abstract all the underlying identity infrastructures that an organization uses. Eric Olden, Forbes, "How Identity Orchestration Can Prevent Multi-Cloud Personality Disorder," 25 Feb. 2021 Ideology goes hand in hand with politics and nationhood because its purpose is to abstract from the particular lives of individuals certain general rules or truths about human behavior that can then be used to organize society. Cameron Hilditch, National Review, "Christianity as Ideology: The Cautionary Tale of the Jericho March," 18 Dec. 2020 Carpet, Styrofoam Stingel is known for probing processes and styles, which range from photo-realist to abstract. Katya Kazakina, Bloomberg.com, "Star Artist’s Market Implodes After Collectors ‘Paid Too Much’," 26 June 2020 The fluid visual rhythms are complemented by a soundtrack of abstracted industrial noises. J. Hoberman, New York Times, "Bruce Baillie, ‘Essential’ Avant-Garde Filmmaker, Dies at 88," 10 Apr. 2020 Google can abstract an enormous amount of information from unstructured text. Andrew Muchmore, STAT, "Government rules led electronic health records astray. It’s time to reimagine them," 27 Mar. 2020 Singer abstracts herself, the artist, from the work too. Washington Post, "At the Hirshhorn, a showcase of recent acquisitions takes the temperature of the art world," 24 Dec. 2019 Without shying away from technical details, this survey provides an accessible course in neural networks, computer vision, and natural-language processing, and asks whether the quest to produce an abstracted, general intelligence is worrisome. Robin Wright, The New Yorker, "Briefly Noted," 29 Oct. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'abstract.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of abstract

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Noun

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

Verb

15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 4

History and Etymology for abstract

Adjective

Middle English, "withdrawn, removed, abstruse, extracted from a longer work, (of nouns in grammar) not concrete," borrowed from Medieval Latin abstractus "removed, secluded, incorporeal, universal, extracted from a larger work, summarized," going back to Latin, past participle of abstrahere "to remove forcibly, turn aside, divert," from abs- (variant of ab- ab- before c- and t-) + trahere "to drag, draw, take along" — more at draw entry 1

Noun

Middle English, derivative of abstract abstract entry 1 (or borrowed directly from Medieval Latin abstractus)

Verb

Middle English abstracten "to draw away, remove," derivative of abstract abstract entry 1 (or borrowed directly from Latin abstractus)

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Learn More about abstract

Time Traveler for abstract

Time Traveler

The first known use of abstract was in the 14th century

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Statistics for abstract

Last Updated

9 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Abstract.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstract. Accessed 14 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for abstract

abstract

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of abstract

 (Entry 1 of 3)

: relating to or involving general ideas or qualities rather than specific people, objects, or actions
of art : expressing ideas and emotions by using elements such as colors and lines without attempting to create a realistic picture

abstract

noun

English Language Learners Definition of abstract (Entry 2 of 3)

: a brief written statement of the main points or facts in a longer report, speech, etc.
: an abstract work of art (such as a painting)

abstract

verb

English Language Learners Definition of abstract (Entry 3 of 3)

: to make a summary of the main parts of (a report, speech, etc.) : to make an abstract of (something)
: to obtain or remove (something) from a source
chiefly British, humorous : to steal (something)

abstract

adjective
ab·​stract | \ ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

Kids Definition of abstract

 (Entry 1 of 3)

1 : hard to understand abstract problems
2 : relating to general ideas or qualities rather than specific people, things, or actions “Honesty” is an abstract word.

Other Words from abstract

abstractly adverb

abstract

noun
ab·​stract | \ ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

Kids Definition of abstract (Entry 2 of 3)

abstract

verb
ab·​stract | \ ab-ˈstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \
abstracted; abstracting

Kids Definition of abstract (Entry 3 of 3)

1 : to take away : separate Certain information was abstracted from the records.
2 : summarize

abstract

noun
ab·​stract | \ ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

Medical Definition of abstract

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a written summary of the key points especially of a scientific paper
2 : a pharmaceutical preparation made by mixing a powdered solid extract of a vegetable substance with lactose in such proportions that one part of the final product represents two parts of the original drug from which the extract was made

abstract

transitive verb
ab·​stract | \ ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) , ab-ˈ How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

Medical Definition of abstract (Entry 2 of 2)

: to make an abstract of

Other Words from abstract

abstractor or abstracter \ -​tər How to pronounce abstract (audio) \ noun

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abstract

noun
ab·​stract | \ ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

Legal Definition of abstract

1 : a summary of a legal document

Other Words from abstract

abstract \ ab-​ˈstrakt, ˈab-​ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \ transitive verb

Comments on abstract

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