Definition of unique
1 : being the only one : sole <his unique concern was his own comfort> <I can't walk away with a unique copy. Suppose I lost it? — Kingsley Amis> <the unique factorization of a number into prime factors>
2 a : being without a like or equal : unequaled <could stare at the flames, each one new, violent, unique — Robert Coover> b : distinctively characteristic : peculiar 1 <this is not a condition unique to California — Ronald Reagan>
3 : unusual <a very unique ball-point pen> <we were fairly unique, the sixty of us, in that there wasn't one good mixer in the bunch — J. D. Salinger>
Usage Discussion of unique
Many commentators have objected to the comparison or modification (as by somewhat or very) of unique, often asserting that a thing is either unique or it is not. Objections are based chiefly on the assumption that unique has but a single absolute sense, an assumption contradicted by information readily available in a dictionary. Unique dates back to the 17th century but was little used until the end of the 18th when, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was reacquired from French. H. J. Todd entered it as a foreign word in his edition (1818) of Johnson's Dictionary, characterizing it as “affected and useless.” Around the middle of the 19th century it ceased to be considered foreign and came into considerable popular use. With popular use came a broadening of application beyond the original two meanings (here numbered 1 and 2a). In modern use both comparison and modification are widespread and standard but are confined to the extended senses 2b and 3. When sense 1 or sense 2a is intended, unique is used without qualifying modifiers.
Examples of unique in a sentence
There are no clear blueprints to be discovered in history that can help us shape the future as we wish. Each historical event is a unique congeries of factors, people, or chronology. —Margaret McMillan, Dangerous Games, 2008
[Tiger] Wood's unique skill set was on display again at last week's U.S. Open, but this victory was more visceral. It was all heart. —Alan Shipnuck, Sports Illustrated, 23 June 2008
Space is a strange and unique item—you can't take it to a lab and analyze it like beef jerky. —Bob Berman, Astronomy, November 2007
A century ago a doctor was considered to be part of a social elite. He—and medicine was then very much a masculine endeavor—had a unique mastery of a special body of knowledge. He professed a commitment to levels of competence and integrity that he expected society to respect and trust. —Richard Horton, New York Review of Books, 31 May 2007
Most stars are not born in isolation but instead in groups of several thousand to tens of thousands, all of which emerge from the same parent cloud of gas. Each cloud has a unique and homogeneous mix of chemical elements and isotopes, which its stellar progeny inherits. Even when the stars disperse, they retain their unique chemical tag … —Rodrigo Ibata et al., Scientific American, April 2007
As a dozen new books will testify, our nation is in the midst of a great barbecue renaissance, with each region proudly claiming its own unique style. —Ruth Reichl, Gourmet, July 2005
She's in the unique position of running for office against her husband.
Humans are unique among mammals in several respects.
Origin and Etymology of unique
French, from Latin unicus, from unus one — more at one
First Known Use: 1602
Synonym Discussion of unique
UNIQUE Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of unique for English Language Learners
—used to say that something or someone is unlike anything or anyone else
: very special or unusual
: belonging to or connected with only one particular thing, place, or person
UNIQUE Defined for Kids
Seen and Heard
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