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

Verb

abstractable \ ab-​ˈstrak-​tə-​bəl How to pronounce abstractable (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak-​ \ adjective
abstractor or abstracter \ ab-​ˈstrak-​tər How to pronounce abstracter (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 The reality is that these highly complex and abstract concepts have increasingly dominated the decisions behind admissions and financial aid at most of the major colleges and universities in the country. Danny Umali, ajc, "Use social media as college admissions tool," 16 May 2020 But the change that struck me seemed more abstract and internal. Kim Stanley Robinson, The New Yorker, "The Coronavirus and Our Future," 1 May 2020 The photos are literal and magical, real and abstract. Robert Frank, National Geographic, "THE BEST OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX," 24 Apr. 2020 The wall, designed by Maya Lin and dedicated in 1982, drew scathing criticism from some who deemed it too abstract and sorrowful. Harrison Smith, BostonGlobe.com, "Glenna Goodacre, artist who sculpted Vietnam Women’s Memorial, dies at 80," 17 Apr. 2020 Somewhere between work, kids, house, family, and friends, the idea of caring for those who lived in close proximity and yet were largely strangers to us became an abstract notion, a virtuous and distant hope but not a pressing priority. Jenny Anderson, Quartz, "Coronavirus reminds us what functioning communities look like," 17 Apr. 2020 And their explanation of why La Niña was a threat seemed far too abstract. Paul Voosen, Science | AAAS, "How a team of scientists studying drought helped build the world’s leading famine prediction model," 15 Apr. 2020 The wall, designed by Maya Lin and dedicated in 1982, drew scathing criticism from some who deemed it too abstract and sorrowful. Harrison Smith, Washington Post, "Glenna Goodacre, artist who sculpted Vietnam Women’s Memorial, dies at 80," 15 Apr. 2020 Music is uniquely suited to engage with this inclusive message because it can be presented through harmonies and mashups whereas other metaphors can become too abstract. cleveland, "Forced to bypass theaters, ‘Trolls World Tour’ celebrates harmony, diversity and hope," 13 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun As the researchers write in a conference abstract, this version itself is in fact a revamp that synthesizes and builds upon six 1:5,000,000-scale lunar geologic maps produced in 2013, based on Apollo observations. Katherine J. Wu, Smithsonian Magazine, "Gorgeous New Map of the Moon Is Most Detailed to Date," 27 Apr. 2020 The review found that 77 studies that lacked randomized testing included specific comments in their abstracts, or summaries, comparing their A.I. system’s performance to that of human doctors. Jonathan Vanian, Fortune, "Is A.I. better at diagnosing illnesses than doctors? Don’t believe all the hype," 22 Apr. 2020 An abstract, nautical design for your coastal home Instead of going with an obvious anchor pattern, what about this abstract nautical design? Camryn Rabideau, USA TODAY, "15 popular rugs from Ruggable that will make your house cozier," 17 Mar. 2020 The problem is Nazis often remain an abstract, like the extreme right or neo-Nazis in today's Germany. NBC News, "'Babylon Berlin' season 3: New murder mystery, same dark fascinations," 20 Dec. 2019 There are abstracts, digital graphics, landscapes, portraits. Angela Hill, The Mercury News, "Want to rent art rather than buy? Bay Area has some fun options," 10 July 2019 Nobody is against the idea of staying home during a pandemic or practicing social distancing in the abstract. New York Times, "Our 2020 Election Guide," 28 Apr. 2020 In the abstract, a restaurant or cafe can adjust to social distancing by taking out every other table, as Gov. Gavin Newsom has suggested. John King, SFChronicle.com, "Post-coronavirus landscape: Architects imagine shared cultural venues and choreographed dining," 28 Apr. 2020 This is a question many of them have studied only in much more limited situations, or in the abstract. Jodi Kantor, New York Times, "When Duty Calls, and Menaces," 17 Apr. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb 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 The villager-player is abstracted in the form of a ball chasing other balls around a bucolic scene. Hart Fowler, Ars Technica, "Push-button warfare: How artists use games to capture drone strike horror," 25 Feb. 2020 Seven of Keaney’s abstracts and two figurative paintings are still for sale on McNaught’s website, 1stdibs.com, listing for $425 to $7,500. Megan Cassidy, SFChronicle.com, "Berkeley artist’s work in storage auctioned off: ‘My entire life has just been sold’," 24 Feb. 2020 Often the violence is abstracted in Stewart Laing’s clever staging: The aggressor may be shown onscreen while the victim is enacted onstage, or vice versa. Jesse Green, New York Times, "Fleeing Home, but Not Homophobia," 18 Nov. 2019 Like an outbreak of the measles, abstracted mouse ears are everywhere. Blair Kamin, chicagotribune.com, "Column: Magnificent Mile? Our architecture critic says some of the street’s retail flagships only merit a ‘meh’," 12 Nov. 2019 The figures are abstracted, almost machinelike, and cement-colored, positioned against a sapphire sea and an equally intense sky. David Sedaris, The New Yorker, "Hurricane Season," 25 Nov. 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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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

22 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Abstract.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstract. Accessed 1 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for abstract

abstract

adjective
How to pronounce abstract (audio) How to pronounce abstract (audio)

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
How to pronounce abstract (audio) How to pronounce abstract (audio)

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
How to pronounce abstract (audio) How to pronounce abstract (audio) How to pronounce abstract (audio)

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.

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
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 abstracter (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

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Comments on abstract

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