abstract

adjective
ab·​stract | \ ab-ˈstrakt, ˈab-ˌ \

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, in sense 2 also ab-ˈ \

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, ˈab-ˌ, in sense 3 usually ˈab-ˌ \
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 , ˈab-​ˌ \ adverb
abstractness \ ab-​ˈstrak(t)-​nəs , ˈab-​ˌ \ noun

Verb

abstractable \ -​ˈstrak-​tə-​bəl , -​ˌstrak-​ \ adjective
abstractor or abstracter \ -​tər \ 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 oppression of women — not an abstract, general evil, but the specific oppression of generations of women in her family — is sewn into the document. Lily Janiak, San Francisco Chronicle, "At Berkeley Rep, Constitution is ‘steamy,’ but ‘Constitution’ is hazy," 11 May 2018 Even within the classical realm, the Pulitzers were long criticized for emphasizing the work of abstract, challenging high-modernist artists at the expense of others. Brian Mccollum, Detroit Free Press, "Pulitzer jurist Regina Carter: Kendrick Lamar's hip-hop work 'really powerful'," 20 Apr. 2018 For deaf scientists like Lorne, ASL has the power to turn abstract, jargon-laden concepts into rich, visual representations. William Poor, The Verge, "How deaf researchers are reinventing science communication," 11 Dec. 2018 Philosophy can feel maddeningly abstract and dry—divorced from the weirdness of the real world. Elizabeth Angell, Town & Country, "The Good Place Creator Michael Schur on How He Made Philosophy a Pop Culture Phenomenon," 6 Dec. 2018 Much has been made—too much, in my view—of Ms. Whiteread’s allegiances to the Minimalist and Post-Minimalist movements of the 1960s and 1970s: primarily in the abstract, geometric nature of her vocabulary. Eric Gibson, WSJ, "‘Rachel Whiteread’ Review: Where Memories Dwell," 2 Oct. 2018 Founders of Gloomhaven is simultaneously too complex and too abstract, too stuffed with ideas and too divorced from the richness of its own setting, to be truly recommended. Tom Mendelsohn, Ars Technica, "Review: Founders of Gloomhaven groans beneath its own weight," 22 Sep. 2018 Venturi and Brown managed to design one for BEST, a chain known for its abstract and sculptural stores, that was bold while staying within its core crass and commercialist confines. Patrick Sisson, Curbed, "Masterpieces of Robert Venturi, a postmodern architecture icon," 20 Sep. 2018 Although our emotions are often abstract and difficult to communicate, September’s new moon will encourage you to create intelligent systems to support your inner-world. Aliza Kelly Faragher, Allure, "What September's Aries Horoscope Means for You," 30 Aug. 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

In the abstract, Bolsonaro voters are just somewhat less supportive of democracy than those who voted for his opponent. Amy Erica Smith, Mollie Cohen, Matthew Layton, Vox, "Did Brazilians vote against democracy on Sunday?," 30 Oct. 2018 Nowak is a fourth generation Texan whose beautiful abstract and representational works spring from her love affair with our state’s diverse and distinctive landscape. Houston Chronicle, "ART FEEL: Canyon Collection Summer Art Day with Artist Holly Nowak," 8 July 2018 Bright geometrics hang alongside black-and-white abstracts, vivid florals, subdued leopards, and stripes. Marina Khorosh, Vogue, "Can You Change Your Mother’s Style—Or Should You?," 11 May 2018 The species may have lived on until the 1700s, an abstract for the report says. Joel Shannon, USA TODAY, "Extinct gibbon discovered in an ancient tomb. It might have been a pet.," 21 June 2018 But conservatives are not arguing for civil liberties in the abstract, or promoting a generalized policy of more lenient treatment of criminal suspects. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "Giuliani’s FBI ‘Stormtroopers’ Smear Is the Key to Trump’s Authoritarian Mind-set," 3 May 2018 An argument could be made, in the abstract, that sociopathy is a disability for which someone should be pitied, that sociopathic behavior is a symptom that should be explained rather than a vice someone can be held responsible for. New York Times, "What Do I Owe My Sociopathic Sibling?," 2 July 2018 Read the abstract on the American Economic Association website. Chelsea Brasted, NOLA.com, "After an LSU football upset, judges give black juveniles longer sentences, study says," 5 June 2018 The full study isn't available online yet, but the abstract is. Chelsea Brasted, NOLA.com, "After an LSU football upset, judges give black juveniles longer sentences, study says," 5 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Her paintings in the museum feature abstracts that explore memories of childhood growing up amid political demonstrations, contrasted with the beauty of the natural world. Tom Verde, New York Times, "In Suburban Connecticut, the Palestinian Avant-Garde," 19 Apr. 2018 And figures like Grace Hopper were formative in abstracting software from hardware — fomenting its emergence as a field in its own right. Stephen Phillips, San Francisco Chronicle, "New tech books: ‘Conspiracy,’ ‘Broad Band,’ ‘The Truth Machine’," 1 June 2018 Calder’s abstracted dinosaur was installed in 1973 to much fanfare. Susan Dunne, courant.com, "The Sculptures Outside The Wadsworth, Explained," 9 July 2018 Like that other unmentionable, death, money has, over the past generation, been increasingly sanitized and technologized, abstracted from the complex and often messy realities of interpersonal relationships. Daniel Mendelsohn, Town & Country, "How Notorious White-Collar Criminals Use Their Friends and Social Connections," 4 Nov. 2016 The subject matter is nominally secular, abstracted from nature: orbs and orifices, branches and seedpods, swirls of wind or wave. Sharon Mizota, latimes.com, "At Blum & Poe, bow down to the ecstatic painting of Mimi Lauter," 30 May 2018 Individual choices are abstracted into numbers or modeled as graphs. John Benjamin, The New Republic, "Business Class," 14 May 2018 Both paintings use backgrounds that are abstracted away from the subjects, and so each painting does place their respective Obama into the canonical space of history (rather than some specific room). Josephine Livingstone, New Republic, "The new Obama portraits are gorgeous alone, but combine strangely.," 12 Feb. 2018 Across the living room is a large-scale wall piece commissioned from Naomi Reis —an abstracted riff on foliage in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Leigh Kamping-carder, WSJ, "An Art-Centered Hamptons Home," 2 May 2018

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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Statistics for abstract

Last Updated

3 Jan 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for abstract

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

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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

: to steal (something)

abstract

adjective
ab·​stract | \ ˈab-ˌstrakt \

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 \

Kids Definition of abstract (Entry 2 of 3)

abstract

verb
ab·​stract | \ ab-ˈstrakt \
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 \

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, ab-ˈ \

Medical Definition of abstract (Entry 2 of 2)

: to make an abstract of

Other Words from abstract

abstractor or abstracter \ -​tər \ noun

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abstract

noun
ab·​stract | \ ˈab-ˌstrakt \

Legal Definition of abstract 

1 : a summary of a legal document

Other Words from abstract

abstract \ ab-​ˈstrakt, ˈab-​ˌstrakt \ transitive verb

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More from Merriam-Webster on abstract

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with abstract

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for abstract

Spanish Central: Translation of abstract

Nglish: Translation of abstract for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of abstract for Arabic Speakers

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