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

Schroeder, in the meantime, mixes material and technique, creating abstractions that feature solid blocks of acrylic color against bits of spray and transparent, watery shades. Carolina A. Miranda, latimes.com, "Datebook: Portraits of peers, collages inspired by the African diaspora and art for feline lovers," 14 June 2018 Many of the works are composed of multiple, fragmentary objects made of plain canvas or lead wrapped around stretchers, which build up to loopy, engaging, figurative abstractions. Charles Desmarais, San Francisco Chronicle, "Charles Desmarais’ art picks for April 29," 4 May 2018 For that matter, that earlier generation of artists also was inclined to find metaphysical ideas percolating in their all-over painterly abstraction. Mike Giuliano, Howard County Times, "Artist gets metaphysical at Columbia Art Center," 6 July 2018 To give a little body to these lofty abstractions, A Prelude to the Shed is running until May 13 in a temporary, um, shed across from the construction site. Justin Davidson, Daily Intelligencer, "What’s Going Into the Shed? A Tiny Preview of Hudson Yards’ Arts Offering," 4 May 2018 But already very much apparent was Kepes’s focus on the experimental, the nature of seeing, and the place of abstraction in the medium. Mark Feeney, BostonGlobe.com, "With György Kepes, photographs as experiments," 28 Mar. 2018 Pablo Picasso’s paintings, easily identifiable by their angular abstractions and bold brush strokes, grace the walls of the world’s top art museums–but few realize the Cubist master also had a sporadic, but lifelong passion for sculpture. Meilan Solly, Smithsonian, "Metal Blends Offer Clues to Picasso Sculptures’ History," 22 Feb. 2018 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

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

28 Oct 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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