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

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 See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective And not just in some abstract, implied, Victorian way, but the chemistry is palpable, and the romance is physical. Damon Young, Washington Post, 1 Aug. 2022 Also present will be three featured artists: textural artist Jeff Schaller, mixed media abstract painter Armando Pedroso and glass blower Henry Levine. Duante Beddingfield, Detroit Free Press, 21 July 2022 Trailblazing abstract painter Sam Gilliam passed away on Saturday, June 25. Deborah Vankinstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 2 July 2022 Originally planned as a full-career retrospective, a show of new work by Sam Gilliam, the celebrated and prolific abstract painter, now serves as a memorial to the beloved artist. Roger Catlin, Smithsonian Magazine, 27 June 2022 Silk and bamboo textile artist Mitsuko Asakura, California ceramicist Simone Bodmer-Turner, and abstract painter Candace Hill Montgomery. Elise Taylor, Vogue, 25 May 2022 In 1954, the American abstract painter Leon Polk Smith (1906-1996) saw some drawings of basketballs in a sports equipment catalog. Peter Plagens, WSJ, 24 May 2022 And why, as an abstract painter, did Lichtenstein suddenly return to images of the human figure, then considered passé? Steven Litt, cleveland, 10 Apr. 2022 An article on Friday about the abstract painter Bridget Riley misidentified the collection from which a small work by Eugène Delacroix was chosen. New York Times, 19 Mar. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Danny and Sasha had been married for less than a year, and Janet, who had no objection to their union in particular, was not yet used to the idea in the abstract: her child was someone’s wife. Clare Sestanovich, The New Yorker, 25 July 2022 Opening a store seems like a solid enough plan in the abstract, although these characters — impulsive, immature and all-around irresponsible — could almost certainly be counted on to screw it up. Peter Debruge, Variety, 25 May 2022 The conceptual drawings of what would eventually become $5-billion SoFi Stadium impressed players in the abstract. Los Angeles Times, 6 Feb. 2022 Resolving to change course sounds appealing in the abstract. Damon Linker, The Week, 1 Feb. 2022 Such statistics have become hard to fathom in the abstract. Tim Carman, Washington Post, 7 Feb. 2022 In the video abstract, Brennan says this seems to be the case for dolphins as well. Margaret Osborne, Smithsonian Magazine, 13 Jan. 2022 In the study’s abstract and conclusions, the researchers noted that the environment of the time may have supported multiple creatures the same size. Joshua Hawkins, BGR, 2 Jan. 2022 From the Indonesian American heritage to the Canadian Midwest, Paris in the pandemic and the human body, these new books travel across worlds and into the abstract. New York Times, 22 Dec. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Many of Saunders’s bags, in tomato red and Yves Klein blue, come with malleable wire framing so that the wearer can abstract the classic square shape into something more surreal. Steff Yotka, Vogue, 22 July 2022 From there, determine the context analytics must abstract for each of those sub-domains. Amandeep Midha, Forbes, 19 May 2022 Cloud platforms continually move up the infrastructure stack to simplify and abstract extraordinarily complex concepts like pub-sub, container orchestration, queueing and more. Jack Naglieri, Forbes, 15 Sep. 2021 In order to transform this pain point into a competitive advantage in 2022, businesses will seek new tools such as API gateways and microservices management tools that abstract away complexity and align with existing IT and DevOps processes. Augusto Marietti, Forbes, 27 Jan. 2022 For four years, Dot Benedict and Kathryn Riley teamed up to abstract the minutes of the Carroll County Orphan’s Court from 1837 through 1885. Mary Ann Ashcraft, baltimoresun.com/maryland/carroll, 14 Nov. 2021 Patch’s platform seeks to abstract away the complexity of managing carbon offsets, making offset projects accessible via an API and a few lines of code. Rob Toews, Forbes, 31 Oct. 2021 The data layer would then be able to consume and utilize RAN data in an accessible, open and aligned manner, abstract it and then normalize it. Ofir Zemer, Forbes, 24 Sep. 2021 Humans, on the other hand, are often able to abstract away from existing examples in order to recognize new never-before-seen items. Ryan Khurana, Scientific American, 2 Jan. 2021 See More

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.

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)

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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Dictionary Entries Near abstract

abstr

abstract

abstracta

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Statistics for abstract

Last Updated

13 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Abstract.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstract. Accessed 18 Aug. 2022.

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More Definitions for abstract

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

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

More from Merriam-Webster on abstract

Nglish: Translation of abstract for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of abstract for Arabic Speakers

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