The Meaning of Non Essential: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know what the phrase non essential means? This article will provide you with all of the necessary information on the phrase non essential, including its definition, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the term nonessential mean?

According to The Free Dictionary, the definition of nonessential is “not absolutely necessary, or having little to no importance.” Something can be considered nonessential if it is not absolutely required for normal functioning. For example during the lockdown of the Coronavirus pandemic, non-essential travel included vacations and other family trips. Many of these had to be cancelled or rescheduled. Other examples include nonessential employees, who were either made to work from home or who were furloughed or let go from their places of work.

In many states, retailers tax non-essential items. According to Avalara, it is often confusing how the retailers determine that these items have a nonessential use, like contact lens cleaning solution or a lid for a hot beverage. Shockingly, 35 states in the United States still charge a nonessential tax on period products, and do not consider them necessities. According to Fast Company, many people are trying to fight for the right for menstrual products to be considered essential and to stop taxing them as luxuries. 

The term nonessential, or non-essential, also has a medical definition. According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Language Dictionary, a nonessential substance is one that is required for our bodies to function, but that we do not need to consume because our bodies can synthesize it from other nutrients. These substances can often be described as non-essential fatty acids, or nonessential amino acids. This term is often used in medical and biochemistry fields.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the term nonessential?

There are many different ways someone can describe something that is nonessential, or not needed. One may choose to use a synonym if they want to avoid repeating themselves or if they want to expand their vocabulary. Thesaurus lists a plethora of these different synonyms below

  • Inessential
  • Unessential
  • Unnecessary
  • Deadwood
  • Peripheral
  • Petty
  • Dispensable
  • Excess baggage
  • Excessive
  • Expendable
  • Extraneous
  • Insignificant
  • Superfluous
  • Trivial
  • Unimportant

On the other hand, if one is looking to describe something that is essential, they should use an antonym for the word nonessential. An antonym is a word that means the opposite of a given word or phrase. All of the below antonyms from Thesaurus mean “essential.”

  • Crucial
  • Essential
  • Fundamental
  • Imperative
  • Indispensable
  • Main
  • Necessary
  • Basal
  • Needed
  • Capital
  • Cardinal
  • Chief
  • Leading
  • Prerequisite
  • Principal
  • Requisite
  • Constitutive
  • Foremost
  • Necessitous
  • Needful
  • Required
  • Right-hand
  • Wanted

What is the origin of the phrase nonessential?

According to Etymonline, the word nonessential rose to popularity as an adjective in the year 1717. It can also be used as a noun to describe a thing or person that is nonessential, and this usage has been attested since 1806.

Etymonline also states that the prefix non- stems from the Latin non, which means “not, by no means, or not at all.” This comes from the Old Latin noenum, meaning “not one.” It differs slightly from the prefix un- in that non- denotes a negation or absence, whereas un- denotes an opposite. This can be a very tricky line to tow, and sometimes there are even synonyms using both non- and un-, like nonessential and unessential.

Essential has been a word since the mid-14th century, according to Etymonline. This comes from the Late Latin essentialis, or essentia, meaning “being or essence.” The use of the word essential to mean something that one cannot do without has been attested since the early 16th century.

How can nonessential be used in a sentence?

Nonessential is a versatile word that can be used in a wide variety of situations. It is not considered a slang term, so one does not need to worry about the term nonessential being too casual for certain environments. Below are examples of ways in which the word nonessential can be used in conversation.

In this first example, Rob is talking to his employees in a meeting. They all work at a credit union, and are discussing their protocol moving forward through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rob: All bankers, tellers, and other essential customer-facing positions will continue to come into our socially distanced branch. We are taking extra precautions with the new spike and encourage everyone to double-mask.

Linda: What about IT? Are we still going to work from home?

Rob: We are still considering the IT department nonessential for the time being. You all will continue to work from home, and we’ll take it on a case-by-case basis if there is something in the branch that needs immediate attention from someone in-person.

Here, Rob used nonessential to explain that the IT department does not need to come to work in person and can continue working from home.  In this next example, Meg is grocery shopping and is shocked at her total.

Meg: Sorry, I’m just a little confused by the total. Those tampons are $9.50 and I only have a $10 bill with me. I didn’t think there’d be tax on them.

Stacy: I know, it’s honestly ridiculous that they’re considered nonessential.

Overall, the word nonessential means something that is not absolutely required, or something that has little to no importance. This word can be used to describe a wide variety of different things, from travel, to items that are taxed, to employees who do not need to be working in person. This is a very versatile word.