ab·​strac·​tion | \ ab-ˈstrak-shən How to pronounce abstraction (audio) , 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

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Other Words from abstraction

abstractional \ ab-​ˈstrak-​shnəl How to pronounce abstraction (audio) , -​shə-​nᵊl , əb-​ \ adjective
abstractive \ ab-​ˈstrak-​tiv How to pronounce abstraction (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak-​ \ 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 benefits of print particularly shine through when experimenters move from posing simple tasks – like identifying the main idea in a reading passage – to ones that require mental abstraction – such as drawing inferences from a text. Naomi S. Baron, The Conversation, "Why we remember more by reading – especially print – than from audio or video," 3 May 2021 Such questions are no abstraction to the family of billionaires currently fending off some 3,000 lawsuits filed by nearly every state, as well as many cities, counties, and tribal governments, in America. Zachary Siegel, The New Republic, "What Did the Sacklers Know?," 23 Apr. 2021 The artist speaks from his studio about abstraction, theosophy and turning lead into gold. Nadja Sayej, Forbes, "Jac Lahav On Alchemy, Ancient Ruins And Abstraction," 21 Apr. 2021 Following a transformative visit to Mondrian’s studio in the 1930s, Calder began to shift toward abstraction in his sculptural works, per a Calder Foundation timeline. Nora Mcgreevy, Smithsonian Magazine, "Explore the Newly Digitized Archive of Alexander Calder, Famed ‘Sculptor of Air’," 9 Mar. 2021 The maxim hangs aptly alongside the show’s most unusual contribution, Ashley Shey’s cloth-and-canvas abstraction, not exactly a print but hand-sewn in an edition of 10. Washington Post, "In the galleries: A focus on the intersection of art and movement," 26 Feb. 2021 With no clear destination, the steps become an abstraction, more sculpture than architecture. New York Times, "In and Around Guadalajara, Homes Like Sanctuaries," 15 Feb. 2021 Mehretu kept moving, and in the process forged a new sort of decolonial abstraction right inside the tradition of Western art. Jason Farago, New York Times, "Julie Mehretu’s Long Journey Home," 25 Mar. 2021 Beethoven, in and out of scare quotes, has become a godlike abstraction of himself, complete with one-word moniker — his music less a product of culture than a feature of nature. Washington Post, "The best way to honor Beethoven’s 250th? Listen to every note he ever wrote.," 24 Dec. 2020

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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Time Traveler for abstraction

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for abstraction

Last Updated

13 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Abstraction.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstraction. Accessed 18 May. 2021.

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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
formal : a general idea or quality rather than an actual person, object, or event : an abstract idea or quality
somewhat formal : 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 How to pronounce abstraction (audio) \

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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