es·​sence | \ˈe-sᵊn(t)s \

Definition of essence 

1a : the permanent as contrasted with the accidental element of being

b : the individual, real, or ultimate nature of a thing especially as opposed to its existence a painting that captures the essence of the land

c : the properties or attributes by means of which something can be placed in its proper class or identified as being what it is

2 : the most significant element, quality, or aspect of a thing or person the essence of the issue

3 : one that possesses or exhibits a quality in abundance as if in concentrated form she was the essence of punctuality

4a(1) : a constituent or derivative possessing the special qualities (as of a plant or drug) in concentrated form also : a preparation of such an essence or a synthetic substitute

(2) : a volatile substance or constituent (as of perfume)

b : odor, perfume

5 : something that exists : entity

in essence

: in or by its very nature : essentially, basically was in essence an honest person

of the essence

: of the utmost importance time is of the essence

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Examples of essence in a Sentence

The perennial debate about nature and nurture—which is the more potent shaper of the human essence?—is perennially rekindled. — Matt Ridley, Time, 2 June 2003 In essence, the positivists were the first sociologists, rejecting both superstition and metaphysics and studying behavior as a natural phenomenon that could be perfected. — Stephan Talty, Mulatto America, 2003 I had come to Orange Cove on a statewide tour, looking for the essence of Latino life in a changing California and a good bowl of the Mexican stew … — Joe Rodriguez, San Jose Mercury News, 20 May 2003 The essence of love is unselfishness. The book's illustrations capture the essence of the story.
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Recent Examples on the Web

In essence, social enterprises in Texas, as in other states, create the jobs instead of searching for them. Tracy Saelinger, Woman's Day, "These 3 Companies Help At-Risk Women and Are Changing the World," 2 July 2018 In essence, Independents actively minimize their impact on elections and party positions. Michael Wear, Time, "Don't Quit the Republican Party. Stay and Fight," 22 June 2018 Even when time is of the essence, culinary innovators in cities like Paris offer modern twists on international street food and sandwiches with wholesome ingredients that make a quick bite still feel nourishing and laid-back. Dana Snitzky, Longreads, "Eating Alone," 6 July 2018 The bold, brash examples that are hanging at the Wolfsonian — about 50 of them — are in their essence political and ideological tools. Anne Tschida, miamiherald, "The Power of Propaganda," 22 June 2018 And that was the key for me: to find that essence without trying to do an imitation. Julie Miller, HWD, "Penélope Cruz Never Wanted Her American Crime Story Experience to End," 19 June 2018 Much of the Media may be corrupt, but the People truly get it! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 15, 2018 Some tweets seem to be trying a little too hard to capture that authentically unhinged Trump essence. Benjamin Hart, Daily Intelligencer, "Report: Trump’s Tweets Include Intentional Grammatical Errors," 22 May 2018 There’s no missing an essence that wants to drift unmoored on last year’s Peacers album Introducing the Crimsmen, but the loose, shaggy grooves keep things more or less centered. Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader, "Mike Donovan sheds the loose structures of the Peacers to get totally wiggy," 11 May 2018 The petition, which was started by Sabrina A., who also runs the website, suggests that time is of the essence to save the data from these accounts. Caroline Hallemann, Town & Country, "Why People Want Meghan Markle to Bring Back Her Social Media Accounts," 29 Jan. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'essence.' 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 essence

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for essence

Middle English essencia, from Latin essentia, from esse to be — more at is

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Statistics for essence

Last Updated

30 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for essence

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

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More Definitions for essence



English Language Learners Definition of essence

: the basic nature of a thing : the quality or qualities that make a thing what it is

: a substance that contains in very strong form the special qualities (such as the taste and smell) of the thing from which it is taken


es·​sence | \ˈe-sᵊns \

Kids Definition of essence

1 : the basic part of something Freedom is the essence of democracy.

2 : a substance made from a plant or drug and having its special qualities


es·​sence | \ˈes-ᵊn(t)s \

Medical Definition of essence 

1 : a substance considered to possess in high degree the predominant qualities of a natural product (as a plant or drug) from which it is extracted (as by distillation or infusion)

2a : essential oil

b : an alcoholic solution especially of an essential oil essence of peppermint

c : an artificial preparation (as an alcoholic solution of one or more esters) used especially in flavoring

d : elixir

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es·​sence | \ˈes-ᵊns \

Legal Definition of essence 

1 : the real or ultimate nature of a thing : the properties that make a thing what it is his award is legitimate only so long as it draws its essence from the collective bargaining agreementUnited Steel Workers v. Enterprise Wheel and Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593 (1960) — see also essence test

2 : the predominant purpose of a thing the essence of the contract

of the essence

: of the utmost importance specifically : so material in nature that failure to satisfy its requirements constitutes a breach of contract time is of the essence

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Comments on essence

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something that serves to warn or remind

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