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 Inside, corridors are lined with polished stone and walls are decorated with abstract art and heart-shaped neon signs. The Economist, "Protestant evangelicals in South Korea wield outsize political power," 28 Nov. 2019 The complex, abstract and unprecedented issue jarred with the local format of the campaign. Ciara Nugent/london, Time, "Inside the Fight to Turn the U.K.’s Brexit Election Into a Climate Election," 28 Nov. 2019 Her eye makeup resembled a painting with its abstract pattern and her hair was done in a cool top knot. 2. Bianca Gracie, Billboard, "Here Are the 10 Best Red Carpet Looks From the 2019 AMAs," 24 Nov. 2019 So all of these layered, mostly abstract pictures are in the shape of ovals. Mark Jenkins, Washington Post, "In the galleries: Exhibits ‘Of This World’ and beyond," 22 Nov. 2019 The gallery is filled with Layman’s signature bright abstract work. al, "Forget Elvis—this Memphis itinerary is all about the city’s leading ladies," 19 Nov. 2019 Their holy mission is to use the coercive power of the State to remake man and society in their own image, according to an abstract ideal of perfection. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "Donald Trump and the Absolute Power Presidency," 18 Nov. 2019 Perhaps even more surprising, abstract ideas from high school math can help, like the formula for the sum of cubes. Quanta Magazine, "Good Cube Hunting," 5 Nov. 2019 The students’ learning curve in this project was steep, with regard to musical notation, the understanding of instruments, and the basic notions of organizing abstract musical ideas into functional structures. James Macmillan, National Review, "Scottish Nationalists Are Hijacking Music to Push an Independence Agenda," 29 Oct. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Watson ingested and analyzed a vast number of scientific abstracts to make predictions about proteins involved in ALS. Alix Lacoste, STAT, "AI will revolutionize drug discovery — but only if experts are involved," 1 Nov. 2019 According to the Scientific American, 97 percent of 4,000 scientific abstracts on climate change assumed humans contributed to global warming. Denise Coffey, courant.com, "Global Climate Strike Reaches Woodstock," 30 Sep. 2019 The headline result from the paper, featured prominently in the abstract, is this: Among white admits, over 43% are ALDC. Robert Verbruggen, National Review, "Harvard’s ‘Legacy’ Preferences Are a National Disgrace," 23 Sep. 2019 For example, the Black and White category must fit the theme of abstract, the People category must fit the theme of friendship, and Nature category must fit the theme of seasons. Jamie Swinnerton, Houston Chronicle, "The Woodlands Photography Club set for annual contest," 18 Sep. 2019 Pearson, born in Yorkshire, England, became a long-time professor at Oberlin College and a painter of geometric abstracts. Grant Segall, cleveland.com, "Cleveland Arts Prize will again recognize John Pearson and the late Audra Skuodas," 27 Aug. 2019 Recently, one of the more widely attended conferences accepted two of my abstracts for presentation. New York Times, "What Should I Do About My Racially Obtuse Co-Worker?," 2 July 2019 Homecourt advantage largely was an abstract last season for the Miami Heat, as the 19-22 record ultimately attested to at AmericanAirlines Arena. Ira Winderman, sun-sentinel.com, "The NBA’s best home team? That would be the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena," 15 Nov. 2019 Polls have found that voters in the abstract would prefer a younger nominee. Los Angeles Times, "Elizabeth Warren, 70, flaunts her fitness as Democratic candidates’ health becomes a debate issue," 14 Oct. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb But there is a reason why many societies represent Lady Justice as wearing a blindfold: the judiciary must put facts and expertise in the balance and be able to abstract away from base prejudices. Monika Schmid, Quartz at Work, "Accent prejudice is costing people the jobs they deserve," 7 Nov. 2019 Underlying job growth — abstracting from the near-term vagaries and upcoming revisions to the jobs data — is likely near 100,000 per month. Mark Zandi For Cnn Business Perspectives, CNN, "Pressure will be on the Fed to clean up Trump's trade war mess," 31 Oct. 2019 The double whammy of naturalistic intensity and abstracted idealization does weird things to his subjects — and to their smiles in particular. Washington Post, "Quiet, please. At the Louvre’s ‘Léonard de Vinci’ exhibition, you’re in the presence of genius.," 29 Oct. 2019 Activity inside the pavilion is transient, abstracted, impermanent, dislocated. Longreads, "Communiqué from an Exurban Satellite Clinic of a Cancer Pavilion Named after a Financier," 17 Sep. 2019 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

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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Learn More about abstract

Time Traveler for abstract

Time Traveler

The first known use of abstract was in the 14th century

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Statistics for abstract

Last Updated

5 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Abstract.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstractors. Accessed 11 December 2019.

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More Definitions for abstract

abstract

adjective
How to pronounce abstract (audio) How to pronounce abstract (audio)

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
How to pronounce abstract (audio) How to pronounce abstract (audio)

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
How to pronounce abstract (audio) How to pronounce abstract (audio) How to pronounce abstract (audio)

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.

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
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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Comments on abstract

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