abstract

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

Essential Meaning of abstract

1 : relating to or involving general ideas or qualities rather than specific people, objects, or actions abstract thinking abstract ideas/concepts such as love and hate See More Examples"Honesty" is an abstract word. The word "poem" is concrete, the word "poetry" is abstract.Hide
2 of art : expressing ideas and emotions by using elements such as colors and lines without attempting to create a realistic picture abstract art an abstract painting/painter

Full 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 abstract (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak(t)-​ \ adverb
abstractness \ ab-​ˈstrak(t)-​nəs How to pronounce abstract (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak(t)-​ \ noun

Verb

abstractable \ ab-​ˈstrak-​tə-​bəl How to pronounce abstract (audio) , ˈab-​ˌstrak-​ \ adjective
abstractor or abstracter \ ab-​ˈstrak-​tər How to pronounce abstract (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 But there are also more abstract imperatives: proving Democrats can deliver on their promises to voters and protecting Biden’s waning political capital. Jonathan Lemire, chicagotribune.com, 18 Oct. 2021 Many are concrete and measurable, others more abstract. New York Times, 14 Oct. 2021 Beyond space: Representing and inferring abstract concepts Other recent work has extended the concept of cognitive maps beyond just spatial representations of the physical environment. Gabriel A. Silva, Forbes, 13 Oct. 2021 It’s a drifting piece of sound sculpture that suggests, accurately, that this will be a slightly more abstract offering relative to its predecessor. Mark Richardson, WSJ, 27 Sep. 2021 Modern attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity often treat the four-dimensional space-time fabric of Einstein’s theory as emergent, a kind of hologram cooked up by more abstract quantum information. Quanta Magazine, 31 Aug. 2021 Unlike Von Bruenchenhein, Waitzkin was an art world insider who studied with Willem de Kooning, an abstract expressionist, and palled around with poet Allen Ginsberg. Megan Hart, Star Tribune, 26 June 2021 Ever lay eyes on those clean, candid paintings that abstract-expressionist wildman Willem de Kooning made in the 1980s? Washington Post, 3 Sep. 2021 Among a clutter of paint jars, scattered colored pencils and drawers jam-packed with works on paper, Flack rediscovered a 1980 photograph, taken during a visit with the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning in his studio. Samantha Baskind, Smithsonian Magazine, 12 Aug. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun And that’s a dangerous proposition in the abstract. Matt Ford, The New Republic, 21 Oct. 2021 Whatever the merits of such a view in the abstract might be, such reasoning should fall on the deaf ears within government. Matt Sekerke, National Review, 1 Oct. 2021 This kind of thing represents an interesting philosophical stance with some merit, at least in the abstract. Andrew Pulrang, Forbes, 26 Sep. 2021 Since the departure of Hassan Whiteside, the notion of an intimidating, shot-blocking, rebounding big man in support largely became an abstract for the Miami Heat. Ira Winderman, sun-sentinel.com, 21 Sep. 2021 The idea of a prevailing presidential candidate's Justice Department prosecuting his predecessor for things done while serving as president sounds like the stuff of dictatorships -- in the abstract. Donald Ayer And Norman Eisen, CNN, 20 Aug. 2021 Even more of an abstract for the Heat is what comes next for free-agent guard Victor Oladipo, who played only four games after being acquired at the NBA trading deadline and then underwent season-ending quadriceps surgery. Ira Winderman, sun-sentinel.com, 3 June 2021 The problem is more general than novels, the friend responds, noting that most people, on their deathbeds, keenly aware that time is precious, talk about close personal relationships rather than human justice in the abstract. Caleb Crain, The Atlantic, 10 Aug. 2021 The most memorable story lines are the ones involving Philadelphians whose lives have been altered by the policies being discussed in the abstract within the D.A.’s office. Anna Boots, The New Yorker, 6 Aug. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb The data layer would then be able to consume and utilize RAN data in an accessible, open and aligned manner, abstract it and then normalize it. Ofir Zemer, Forbes, 24 Sep. 2021 Humans, on the other hand, are often able to abstract away from existing examples in order to recognize new never-before-seen items. Ryan Khurana, Scientific American, 2 Jan. 2021 In essence, such mathematical descriptions abstract away unnecessary details about the biological implementation. Gabriel A. Silva, Forbes, 27 May 2021 The low-code tools on which both groups increasingly rely are expected to abstract away the inherent complexities of enterprise application development. Asanka Abeysinghe, Forbes, 11 Mar. 2021 To unify different identity systems' APIs, data models, user access policies and feature sets in a consistent fashion, the identity fabric must be able to abstract all the underlying identity infrastructures that an organization uses. Eric Olden, Forbes, 25 Feb. 2021 Ideology goes hand in hand with politics and nationhood because its purpose is to abstract from the particular lives of individuals certain general rules or truths about human behavior that can then be used to organize society. Cameron Hilditch, National Review, 18 Dec. 2020 Carpet, Styrofoam Stingel is known for probing processes and styles, which range from photo-realist to abstract. Katya Kazakina, Bloomberg.com, 26 June 2020 The fluid visual rhythms are complemented by a soundtrack of abstracted industrial noises. J. Hoberman, New York Times, 10 Apr. 2020

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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Time Traveler for abstract

Time Traveler

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

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Dictionary Entries Near abstract

abstr

abstract

abstracta

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Statistics for abstract

Last Updated

24 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Abstract.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abstract. Accessed 26 Oct. 2021.

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More Definitions for abstract

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 abstract (audio) \ noun

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

More from Merriam-Webster on abstract

Nglish: Translation of abstract for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of abstract for Arabic Speakers

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