ab·strac·tion | \ ab-ˈstrak-shən , əb- \

Definition of abstraction 

1a : the act or process of abstracting : the state of being abstracted

b : an abstract idea or term

2 : absence of mind or preoccupation

3 : abstract quality or character

4a : an abstract composition or creation in art

b : abstractionism

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Other words from abstraction

abstractional \-shnəl, -shə-nᵊl \ adjective
abstractive \ab-ˈstrak-tiv, ˈab-ˌ \ adjective

Did You Know?

From its roots, abstraction should mean basically "something pulled or drawn away". So abstract art is art that has moved away from painting objects of the ordinary physical world in order to show something beyond it. Theories are often abstractions; so a theory about economics, for instance, may "pull back" to take a broad view that somehow explains all of economics (but maybe doesn't end up explaining any of it very successfully). An abstract of a medical or scientific article is a one-paragraph summary of its contents—that is, the basic findings "pulled out" of the article.

Examples of abstraction in a Sentence

abstraction of data from hospital records “Beauty” and “truth” are abstractions. She gazed out the window in abstraction.
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Recent Examples on the Web

The haunting halls of the Scotland Street School and the colorful, protruding stone abstractions outside the Daily Record Building. Sam Lubell, New York Times, "A Glasgow Architect’s Masterpiece Is Damaged, but Not His Magic," 2 July 2018 With graphs, Nowak could depict diverse population structures as mathematical abstractions. John Rennie, WIRED, "This Mutation Math Shows How Life Keeps on Evolving," 1 July 2018 The reality of knowing all of these Israelis, of seeing them as flesh-and-blood people rather than abstractions, makes Israel’s fate seem vital. Zack Beauchamp, Vox, "I’m an American Jew who abhors Israel’s violence. I still can’t boycott Israel.," 15 May 2018 Zero is an abstraction and a reality at the same time. Brian Resnick, Vox, "The mind-bendy weirdness of the number zero, explained," 5 July 2018 Cait Carouge’s large color photographs, meanwhile, one orange, one rosy gray, one mostly black, are inhabited by slits, streaks and overlapping rhombuses that could almost pass for Photoshop abstraction. New York Times, "What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week," 27 June 2018 Mondrian created the four works during a period when abstraction had taken hold. Catherine Hickley, New York Times, "Mondrian’s Heirs Stake Claim to Four Paintings in a German Museum," 4 Mar. 2018 The opaque and lugubrious language of the law is an unwitting accomplice in all this, the serpentine connections between precedents and statutes and sub-definitions shoving everything into abstractions. Rafia Zakaria, The New Republic, "On Sending Women Home to Die," 18 June 2018 These days, backend developers have moved on to solving more elaborate problems, while typically using Docker or other container technologies as the unit of abstraction. Paul Miller, The Verge, "Living in a Docker world," 25 May 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'abstraction.' 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 abstraction

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for abstraction

borrowed from Middle French & Late Latin; Middle French, "abduction (of a woman), removal, extraction (of a foreign body from a wound), (in philosophy) process by which the mind is able to form universal representations of the properties of distinct objects," borrowed from Late Latin abstractiōn-, abstractiō, from Latin abstrac- (variant stem of abstrahere "to remove forcibly") + -tiōn-, -tiō, suffix of action nouns — more at abstract entry 1

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Last Updated

16 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for abstraction

The first known use of abstraction was in the 15th century

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More Definitions for abstraction



English Language Learners Definition of abstraction

: the act of obtaining or removing something from a source : the act of abstracting something

: a general idea or quality rather than an actual person, object, or event : an abstract idea or quality

: the state of someone who is not paying attention to what is happening or being said : an abstracted state


ab·strac·tion | \ ab-ˈstrak-shən \

Kids Definition of abstraction

1 : the act of summarizing : the state of being summarized

2 : a thought or thoughts about general qualities or ideas rather than people or things

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