quin·​tes·​sen·​tial | \ ˌkwin-tə-ˈsen(t)-shəl How to pronounce quintessential (audio) \

Definition of quintessential

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: perfectly typical or representative of a particular kind of person or thing Jerry's your quintessential streetwise New Yorker …— Kai Wright This is the quintessential Los Angeles restaurant, casual but never frumpy, lively but not overheated …— Harvey Steiman Marx was the quintessential intellectual, remarkably detached from the real world.— John Steele Gordon : being a quintessence His very faults were middling … It was not in his nature to be superlative in anything; unless, indeed, he was superlatively middling, the quintessential extract of mediocrity.— George Eliot


plural quintessentials

Definition of quintessential (Entry 2 of 2)

: a quintessential element : something that is a typical part or pure example usually plural The quintessentials—ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, and mustard—that characterize classic American barbecue sauce can be found in this dish.— Betty RosbottomThe quintessentials of a culture become all the more noticeable and absorbing if they are perceived as in danger of disappearing or as an obstacle to progress that must disappear.— Steve J. Stern

Other Words from quintessential


quintessentially adverb
It is commonly accepted … that the rocking chair was an American invention, perhaps the most quintessentially American furniture form ever invented. — Linda Rosenkrantz There's no occupation more quintessentially macho than that of private detective. — Cynthia Crossen

Quintessential and the Elements

The philosophers and scientists of the ancient world and the Middle Ages believed that the world we inhabit was entirely made up of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Aristotle added a fifth element, the aether or ether, by which he meant the material that fills the rest of space, mostly invisibly but sometimes taking the form of stars and planets. Many writers described the element as a kind of invisible light or fire. In the Middle Ages, it was referred to as the quinta essentia ("fifth element"). It isn't surprising that the quinta essentia came to stand for anything so perfect that it seemed to surpass the limitations of earth. Today we generally use quintessential rather freely to describe just about anything that represents the best of its kind.

First Known Use of quintessential


1551, in the meaning defined above


1853, in the meaning defined above

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The first known use of quintessential was in 1551

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Cite this Entry

“Quintessential.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/quintessential. Accessed 30 Jun. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on quintessential

Nglish: Translation of quintessential for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of quintessential for Arabic Speakers


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