abstract

adjective
ab·​stract | \ ab-ˈstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) , ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

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 How to pronounce abstract (audio) , in sense 2 also ab-ˈstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

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 How to pronounce abstract (audio) , ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) , in sense 3 usually ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \
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 How to pronounce abstractly (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak(t)-​ \ adverb
abstractness \ ab-​ˈstrak(t)-​nəs How to pronounce abstractness (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak(t)-​ \ noun

Verb

abstractable \ ab-​ˈstrak-​tə-​bəl How to pronounce abstractable (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak-​ \ adjective
abstractor or abstracter \ ab-​ˈstrak-​tər How to pronounce abstracter (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak-​ \ 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

During the Christmas holiday of 1915, she—isolated, intent—created a series of abstract drawings that was the first to define her as an artist. Roxana Robinson, The New Yorker, "The Rivalry Between Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Sister Ida," 4 Sep. 2019 From the museum’s private collection, Ringle pulled two pieces: a photograph by David Levinthal, which examined Barbie as a fashion icon post World War II and a 1964 abstract painting by artist Grace Hartigan, who was an early critic of Barbie. al, "Go inside ‘Barbie: Dreaming of a Female Future,' at the Birmingham Museum of Art," 9 Aug. 2019 His 40-inch by 40-inch abstract painting now hangs on a three-story-high wall in her Point Loma home’s front stairwell. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Column: Whodunit? Case of the missing downtown San Diego trees," 9 Aug. 2019 Alongside such figurative works, Fowler has included many that are resolutely abstract. Sharon Mizota, Los Angeles Times, "For these 20 women artists, ‘Rapunzel’ and ‘Dyketactics’ are just the beginning," 16 Aug. 2019 Scientists said the incident clarified that the possibility of a disaster fire in space was no longer an abstract idea. San Diego Union-Tribune, "50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landings recall great contributions of San Diego’s aerospace industry," 21 July 2019 The problem Google researchers have chosen is exceedingly abstract. Adrian Cho, Science | AAAS, "How to evaluate computers that don’t quite exist," 26 June 2019 Some are abstract while others are scenic, but all will transport you to a world beyond your walls. Hadley Mendelsohn, House Beautiful, "Interior Designers Predict the Next Major Wallpaper Trends," 12 Mar. 2019 The life-long Cleveland Browns fan is currently painting a mural on a metal storage pod at Voinovich Park, and the message, revealed when looking at the abstract art with a red filter, should make fellow Browns fans smile. Lynn Ischay, cleveland.com, "Browns QB Baker Mayfield’s words the secret of Justin Tetlak’s mural," 26 July 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

These are semi-abstract, composed of geometric lines and curves, using a limited palette. Roxana Robinson, The New Yorker, "The Rivalry Between Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Sister Ida," 4 Sep. 2019 Although voters preferred a middle-age nominee in the abstract, when they were asked about specific candidates, majorities chose the two oldest candidates — Biden, 76, and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, 77 — as the ones mostly likely to beat Trump. Janet Hook, latimes.com, "This poll asked voters to create their perfect candidate. Democrats picked an older white guy," 19 June 2019 His subjects become more variegated and splotchy, sometimes bordering on the abstract, with the notable exception of many of his astonishingly varied—and little-known—landscapes, a rich selection of which are on display here. A.j. Goldmann, WSJ, "‘Oskar Kokoschka—Expressionist, Migrant, European. A Retrospective’ Review: Longevity as Blessing and Curse," 2 Jan. 2019 Delete the image data — all the identifiable, still images of the video — and you’re left with the abstract, interior information that populates the space between images. Bijan Stephen, The Verge, "The key to creating gorgeous, glitchy YouTube images: anticipation and deletion," 15 July 2018 Her 2016 project Lemonade concerned an ultra-abstract, almost elemental story: sour turning sweet, lemons becoming lemonade. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, "Beyoncé Remixed the Meaning of The Lion King," 26 July 2019 On View: When graffiti artists tag handball courts in New York, the city sends painters to patch them over, and Mr. Ancart noticed that the splotchy results often evoke abstracts. Kelly Crow, WSJ, "Meet the Art World’s Rising Stars," 16 June 2019 Especially within the indigenous jewelry market, which is largely still relegated to the realms of turquoise or beading, Scott’s more modern aesthetic proves the power of working in abstracts. Christian Allaire, Vogue, "How These Shapely Statement Earrings Celebrate Coast Salish Culture," 13 Mar. 2019 This includes, for example, the use of an editorial cartoon in a presentation, the posting of an article abstract on a web site, or the reproduction of a full article within another publication. The Christian Science Monitor, "Terms of Service and Legal Information," 3 Jan. 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

In fact, the mathematical toy models that physicists use are good at abstracting things like the relationship between species. Chris Lee, Ars Technica, "Starving predators survive together, but maybe only in math-land," 27 July 2019 Jacoby’s creation is one of several that can be seen as abstracted floral arrangements. Mark Jenkins, Washington Post, "In the galleries: Pulsating dramas of light and sound," 12 July 2019 Skolnick’s perching an abstracted dove atop a strongly horizontal guitar neck is both visually arresting and succinctly symbolic. Mark Feeney, BostonGlobe.com, "Illustrating the year 1969, when rad met trad," 10 July 2019 Others are more engaging — especially a 7-foot sheet of small, finely drawn and seemingly made-up and abstracted characters by Kim Jongweon. Christopher Knight, latimes.com, "Review: LACMA’s ‘Art of Korean Writing’ reveals the brilliance in each brushstroke," 29 June 2019 Once again, the woman’s story is consumed and abstracted and diffused into the acrid air. Megan Garber, The Atlantic, "The Cruel Paradox at the Heart of E. Jean Carroll’s Allegation Against Trump," 24 June 2019 Ariel Nava/Lionsgate Collin and Miles’s relationship also allows the movie to carefully but confidently address some of the thornier realities that abstracted political and social arguments often sidestep for convenience’s sake. Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "Blindspotting is the rare buddy comedy that tackles social issues. It works.," 19 July 2018 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

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

17 Sep 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
chiefly British, humorous : to steal (something)

abstract

adjective
ab·​stract | \ ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

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 How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

Kids Definition of abstract (Entry 2 of 3)

abstract

verb
ab·​stract | \ ab-ˈstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \
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 How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

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 How to pronounce abstract (audio) , ab-ˈ How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

Medical Definition of abstract (Entry 2 of 2)

: to make an abstract of

Other Words from abstract

abstractor or abstracter \ -​tər How to pronounce abstracter (audio) \ noun

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abstract

noun
ab·​stract | \ ˈab-ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \

Legal Definition of abstract

1 : a summary of a legal document

Other Words from abstract

abstract \ ab-​ˈstrakt, ˈab-​ˌstrakt How to pronounce abstract (audio) \ 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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