The Meaning of Abstract: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of abstract? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word abstract, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word abstract mean?

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, Collins English Dictionary, and the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the word abstract has a plethora of different definitions. First, the word abstract can be used as an adjective to describe something that exists as an idea, feeling, or quality, and not a material object or something concrete. The adjective abstract can also describe an argument or discussion that is general and not based on specific or particular examples, such as abstract science or abstract reasoning.  Abstract can also describe a type of art including a painting, drawing or sculpture, that uses shapes in lines in a way that does not represent the true appearance of people or things. 

The word abstract can also be used as a noun. An abstract is a short summary of a speech, article, book, or other written work that gives only the most important facts or ideas. This sketchy summary of the main points of an argument gives an idea of the general quality of what one might find in the work as opposed to actual instances, specific objects or belongings. This brief summary of a research article that precedes a body of literature at the beginning of a manuscript or typescript is used in various academic disciplines. This will give an executive summary of the paper’s purpose and the main results rather than an in-depth analysis of a particular subject like the full paper or entities. One may also provide an abstract for a patent application, management reports, or other particular instances or a particular case of narrative content.

The word abstract can also be used as a verb meaning to remove or separate, or to make some summary or abstract of. Empiricists like to abstract about the theoretical rather than the concrete realities of the world. The word abstract has two syllables – ab-stract, and the pronunciation of abstract is æbˈstrækt.

Many different languages also use translations of abstract to describe something that is hypothetical or conceptual in nature. You may notice that many of these words look and sound similar to the word abstract. These are called cognates, which are formed when two words have the same language of origin or root. This list of translations of abstract is from Word Sense.

  •  Japanese: 抽象的‎ (ちゅうしょうてき, chūshōteki)
  •  Arabic: تَجْرِيدِيّ‎
  •  Norwegian: abstrakt‎
  •  Thai: นาม‎ (naam)
  •  Italian: astratto‎, teorico‎
  •  Estonian: abstraktne‎
  •  French: abstrait‎
  •  Turkish: soyut‎
  •  Hungarian: absztrakt‎
  •  Cantonese: 抽象‎ (cau1 zoeng6)
  •  Greek: θεωρητικός‎ (masc.)
  •  Tagalog: basal‎
  •  Armenian: վերացական‎, աբստրակտ‎
  •  Esperanto: abstrakta‎
  •  Vietnamese: trừu tượng‎
  •  Catalan: abstracte‎
  •  Spanish: abstracto‎
  •  Belarusian: абстра́ктны‎
  •  Swedish: abstrakt‎, teoretisk‎
  •  Portuguese: abstrato‎
  •  German: abstrakt‎
  •  Dutch: abstract‎, theoretisch‎
  •  Min Nan: 抽象‎ (thiu-siōng)
  •  Romanian: abstract‎
  •  Galician: abstracto‎
  •  Basque: abstraktu‎
  •  Finnish: teoreettinen‎, abstrakti‎
  •  Russian: абстра́ктный‎
  •  Mandarin: 抽象‎ (chōuxiàng)
  •  Asturian: astrautu‎
  •  Latvian: abstrakts‎
  •  Sanskrit: विषयविविक्त‎
  •  Bulgarian: абстрактен‎, отвлечен‎

What is the origin of the word abstract?

According to Etymonline, the word abstract (ˈæbstrækt) has been used as an adjective since late c14. It was originally used in grammar to reference certain nouns that don’t name concrete things. This word comes from the Latin abstractus, the past participle of abstrahere meaning to drag away or detach. This comes from the prefix ab meaning off or away from, and the Latin trahere meaning to draw. These come from the Proto-Inndo-European root tragh meaning to draw or move.

The word abstract has been used in philosophy since the mid-fifteenth century in opposition to concrete. The word abstract has been used to describe something that is difficult to understand since 1400. In Fine Arts, abstract has been used since 1914 to describe something that has a lack of representational qualities. It has also been a term in music since 1847 for music that does not have accompanying lyrics. The phrase abstract expressionism has been exemplified by Jackson Pollock and used since 1952, but the term itself was first used in the 1920s. 

The word abstract has been used as a noun to describe an abridgment or summary of a document since the mid-fifteenth century. Abstract has been used as a verb since the 1540s, and since the 1610s in the philosophical sense. One can add the suffixes ed, ing, and ly to form the related words abstractly (adv.), abstracted and abstracting.

What are synonyms and antonyms of the word abstract?

There are many different words that one could use in place of the word abstract. Words that have the same definition as another word or phrase are called synonyms. Learning synonyms is a great way to expand your vocabulary and avoid repeating the same word frequently. This list of synonyms for abstract is from Thesaurus

  •  abstruse
  •  complex
  •  deep
  •  recondite
  •  philosophical
  •  ideal
  •  intellectual
  •  nonconcrete
  •  unreal
  •  conceptual
  •  hypothetical
  •  indefinite
  •  transcendental
  •  transcendent
  •  theoretical

There are also a plethora of different words that mean the opposite of the word abstract. These opposite words are called antonyms, which are words and phrases that one can learn to easily expand their English language vocabulary. This list of antonyms of abstract is also provided by Thesaurus

  •  precise
  •  substantial
  •  objective
  •  concrete
  •  factual
  •  tangible
  •  real
  •  detailed
  •  sensible
  •  solid
  •  corporeal
  •  particular
  •  accurate
  •  specific
  •  material
  •  explicit
  •  definite
  •  actual

Overall, the word abstract (ˈæb strækt) means not concrete, or hypothetical. This word can also be used to reference a condensed version of a piece of writing such as a synopsis that precedes an academic paper or thesis that describes the epitome of its essential qualities. This word has been used since Middle English and is of Latin roots.

Sources:

  1. abstract: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  2. ABSTRACT Synonyms: 87 Synonyms & Antonyms for ABSTRACT | Thesaurus 
  3. CONCRETE Synonyms: 58 Synonyms & Antonyms for CONCRETE | Thesaurus 
  4. abstract | Origin and meaning of abstract | Online Etymology Dictionary 
  5. ABSTRACT | Cambridge English Dictionary