quin·​tes·​sence kwin-ˈte-sᵊn(t)s How to pronounce quintessence (audio)
: the fifth and highest element in ancient and medieval philosophy that permeates all nature and is the substance composing the celestial bodies
: the essence of a thing in its purest and most concentrated form
: the most typical example or representative
the quintessence of calm

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Long ago, when people believed that everything was made up of four elements—earth, air, fire, and water—they thought the stars and planets were made up of yet another element. In the Middle Ages, people called this element by its Medieval Latin name, quinta essentia, literally, "fifth essence." They believed the quinta essentia was essential to all kinds of matter, and if they could somehow isolate it, it would cure all disease. People have since given up on that idea, but English users have kept quintessence, the offspring of quinta essentia, as a word for the purest essence of a thing. Some modern physicists have given quintessence a new twist—they use it to refer to a form of the dark energy believed to make up almost 70 percent of the energy in the observable universe.

Examples of quintessence in a Sentence

the Parthenon in Greece was considered the quintessence of the perfectly proportioned building a selfless desire to help others is the quintessence of the virtue of charity
Recent Examples on the Web To test whether dark energy is caused by quintessence or the cosmological constant, scientists must determine whether the strength of dark energy has changed over time. Clara Moskowitz, Scientific American, 1 Feb. 2021 True to its low-impact quintessence, the culinary program takes a farm-to-table approach emphasizing fresh, local ingredients. Lindsay Cohn, Travel + Leisure, 10 May 2024 To some, quintessence was a subtle substance found in some degree in each of the other four elements. Meg Neal, Popular Mechanics, 10 Feb. 2021 The very quintessence of a group effort. Sean Carroll, Discover Magazine, 6 July 2012 And her longevity feels like a quest in the direction of excellence, as well as a pursuit of her own quintessence. Chris Richards, Washington Post, 3 Feb. 2023 But Frieman hopes new data may reveal something more exotic, such as a mysterious substance called quintessence, which some scientists have proposed could explain the accelerating expansion of the universe. Ramin Skibba, Discover Magazine, 24 Jan. 2020 That’s partly because punk, with its assaultive immediacy and defiant not-niceness, now seems like the quintessence of the pre-digital world. Owen Gleiberman, Variety, 24 July 2022 To celebrate the Domaine, Lancôme has introduced a special edition Mille et Une Roses (1001 Roses) fragrance, created by perfumer Louise Turner to capture the quintessence of this glorious and significant flower. April Long, Town & Country, 26 Aug. 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'quintessence.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Middle French quinte essence, from Medieval Latin quinta essentia, literally, fifth essence

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of quintessence was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near quintessence

Cite this Entry

“Quintessence.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/quintessence. Accessed 18 Jul. 2024.

Kids Definition


quin·​tes·​sence kwin-ˈtes-ᵊn(t)s How to pronounce quintessence (audio)
: the purest form of something
: the most perfect type or example

Middle English quintessence "the substance from which heavenly bodies are formed (according to medieval belief)," from early French quinte essence (same meaning), from Latin quinta essentia, literally, "fifth essence," from earlier quinta, feminine form of quintus "fifth," and earlier essentia "essence"

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