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 abstractional (audio) , -​shə-​nᵊl , əb-​ \ adjective
abstractive \ ab-​ˈstrak-​tiv How to pronounce abstractive (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 Even the purest, most ethereal work—an abstraction by Geneviève Asse, a string quartet by Linda Catlin Smith—can leave us in a state of vulnerable awareness. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, "Sorrowful Songs at the White Light Festival," 11 Nov. 2019 While other Impressionists’ works were characterized by textural, staccato brushstrokes, her art began to approach proto-abstraction. Vogue, "American Impressionist Mary Rogers Williams Is Finally Getting the Recognition She Deserves," 6 Nov. 2019 Our neighbors — and the rest of the world — become abstractions. Jim Beckerman, USA TODAY, "Are ethics for suckers? The US has a complicated relationship with right and wrong in 2019," 26 Oct. 2019 These works roam from hyped realism to abstraction to ornamentation, from the fluid stickiness of paint to traditional textiles to the pixelated irregularities of digital scans. BostonGlobe.com, "WELLESLEY — Kanishka Raja, a painter who died last year at 49 from cancer, forcefully and exuberantly made art that dissolved boundaries. The work now feels urgent, and like a salve.," 24 Oct. 2019 Among other things, the Davis Collection documents the strong tradition of abstraction among African-American artists. Steven Litt, cleveland, "‘Seen Unseen’ exhibit at Artists Archives in Cleveland highlights African-American artists, known and unknown," 20 Oct. 2019 But Amazon is both that tangible company and an abstraction far more powerful. Franklin Foer, The Atlantic, "Jeff Bezos’s Master Plan," 10 Oct. 2019 Whether looking at something from either far away or up close, there is a tendency toward abstraction. Mike Giuliano, baltimoresun.com, "In natural realms, photographers find abstraction with exhibit at Columbia gallery," 26 Sep. 2019 Witness the Hilma af Klint show that wowed critics when it was mounted at the Guggenheim Museum this past year, more than a hundred years after the Swedish artist first painted her radical abstractions. Lori Waxman, chicagotribune.com, "A Laura Aguilar retrospective gives turns an eye to her beautiful views of people outside the mainstream," 22 July 2019

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

25 Nov 2019

Cite this Entry

“Abstraction.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstractive. Accessed 5 December 2019.

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More Definitions for abstraction


How to pronounce abstraction (audio)

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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