1

abstract

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adjective ab·stract \ ab-ˈstrakt , ˈab-ˌ \
Updated on: 6 Sep 2017

Definition of abstract

1 a :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
3 a :dealing with a subject in its abstract aspects :theoretical
  • abstract science
b :impersonal, detached
  • the abstract compassion of a surgeon
  • Time
4 :having only intrinsic form with little or no attempt at pictorial representation or narrative content
  • abstract painting

abstractly

play \ab-ˈstrak(t)-lē, ˈab-ˌ\ adverb

abstractness

play \ab-ˈstrak(t)-nəs, ˈab-ˌ\ noun

Examples of abstract in a Sentence

  1. 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 PowerNew York Times Book Review14 Mar. 2002
  2. A glance into the classrooms of the Los Angeles public school system … fleshes out the abstract debates with the faces of children. —Jared DiamondGuns, Germs, and Steel1997
  3. 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 SilkoYellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit1996
  4. abstract ideas such as love and hate

  5. “Honesty” is an abstract word.

  6. The word “poem” is concrete, the word “poetry” is abstract.

Recent Examples of abstract from the Web

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.

The Crisscrossing Histories of abstract and extract

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.”

Origin and Etymology of abstract

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 1draw


2

abstract

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noun ab·stract \ ˈab-ˌstrakt , in sense 2 also ab-ˈ \

Definition of abstract

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 1abstract)
3 :abstraction 4a

Examples of abstract in a Sentence

  1. an artist admired for his abstracts

  2. the scientist wrote a bare-bones abstract of his research and conclusions

Recent Examples of abstract from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of abstract

Middle English, derivative of abstract 1abstract (or borrowed directly from Medieval Latin abstractus)

Other Fine Arts Terms


3

abstract

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verb ab·stract \ ab-ˈstrakt , ˈab-ˌ , in sense 3 usually ˈab-ˌ \

Definition of abstract

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
intransitive verb
:to make an abstraction

abstractable

play \-ˈstrak-tə-bəl, -ˌstrak-\ adjective

abstractor

or abstracter play \-tər\ noun

Examples of abstract in a Sentence

  1. … artists in the group put the emphasis on geometric abstraction rather than images abstracted from nature. —Robert AtkinsArt Spoke1993
  2. … the Romantic project was to abstract from religion its essential "feeling" and leave contemptuously behind its traditional formulations. —Theodore RoszakThe Making of a Counter Culture1969
  3. … conscientiously and with great purity made the uncompromising effort to abstract his view of life into an art work … —Norman MailerAdvertisements for Myself1959
  4. … basic esthetic criteria and standards he has abstracted from long intimacy with time-tested masterpieces. —Aline B. SaarinenNew York Times Book Review7 Nov. 1954
  5. Data for the study was abstracted from hospital records.

  6. personal problems abstracted him so persistently that he struggled to keep his mind on his work

Recent Examples of abstract from the Web

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.

Origin and Etymology of abstract

Middle English abstracten "to draw away, remove," derivative of abstract 1abstract (or borrowed directly from Latin abstractus)

abstract Synonyms

Synonyms
distract, call off, detract, divert, throw off
Related Words
amuse, beguile, entertain; stray, wander
Near Antonyms
concentrate, focus


ABSTRACT Defined for English Language Learners

abstract

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adjective

Definition of abstract for English Language Learners

  • : 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

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noun

Definition of abstract for English Language Learners

  • : 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

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verb

Definition of abstract for English Language Learners

  • : 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

  • : to steal (something)


ABSTRACT Defined for Kids

1

abstract

play
adjective ab·stract \ ˈab-ˌstrakt \

Definition of abstract for Students

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.

abstractly

adverb

2

abstract

play
noun ab·stract \ ˈab-ˌstrakt \

Definition of abstract for Students


3

abstract

play
verb ab·stract \ ab-ˈstrakt \

Definition of abstract for Students

abstracted; abstracting
1 :to take away :separate
  • Certain information was abstracted from the records.

Medical Dictionary

1

abstract

play
noun ab·stract \ ˈab-ˌstrakt \

medical Definition of abstract

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

2

abstract

play
transitive verb ab·stract \ ˈab-ˌstrakt , ab-ˈ \

medical Definition of abstract

:to make an abstract of

abstractor

or abstracter play \-tər\ noun

Law Dictionary

abstract

play
noun ab·stract \ ˈab-ˌstrakt \

legal Definition of abstract

1 :a summary of a legal document

abstract

play \ab-ˈstrakt, ˈab-ˌstrakt\ transitive verb


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