Abstract Definition and Meaning: What is an Abstract? What Does Abstract Mean?

Abstract Definition

ab·stract (b-strkt, bstrkt)

adj.

1. Considered apart from concrete existence: an abstract concept.

2. Not applied or practical; theoretical. See Synonyms at theoretical.

3. Difficult to understand; abstruse: abstract philosophical problems.

4. Thought of or stated without reference to a specific instance: abstract words like truth and justice.

5. Impersonal, as in attitude or views.

6. Having an intellectual and affective artistic content that depends solely on intrinsic form rather than on narrative content or pictorial representation: abstract painting and sculpture.

n. (bstrkt)

1. A statement summarizing the important points of a text.

2. Something abstract.

tr.v. (b-strkt) ab·stract·ed, ab·stract·ing, ab·stracts

1. To take away; remove.

2. To remove without permission; filch.

3. To consider (a quality, for example) without reference to a particular example or object.


Meaning of Abstract

When something is "abstract", it means that it doesn't have a solid existence. I.e., you can't realize it using any of your senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell). For example, feelings, like happiness or sadness, are abstract. When used with art, though, it usually refers to that kind of art that doesn't describe materialized things, and abstract pieces of art are occasionally called 'strange' -- that's probably what you were talking about.


abstract

adj [ˈæbstrækt]

1. having no reference to material objects or specific examples; not concrete

2. not applied or practical; theoretical

3. hard to understand; recondite; abstruse

4. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Art Terms) denoting art characterized by geometric, formalized, or otherwise nonrepresentational qualities

5. defined in terms of its formal properties an abstract machine

6. (Philosophy) Philosophy (of an idea) functioning for some empiricists as the meaning of a general term the word "man'' does not name all men but the abstract idea of manhood

n [ˈæbstrækt]

1. a condensed version of a piece of writing, speech, etc.; summary

2. an abstract term or idea

3. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Art Terms) an abstract painting, sculpture, etc.

in the abstract without reference to specific circumstances or practical experience

vb [æbˈstrækt] (tr)

1. to think of (a quality or concept) generally without reference to a specific example; regard theoretically

2. to form (a general idea) by abstraction

3. (also intr) to summarize or epitomize

4. to remove or extract

5. Euphemistic to steal


What is Abstract?

Noun 1. abstract - a concept or idea not associated with any specific instance; "he loved her only in the abstract--not in person"

abstraction

right - an abstract idea of that which is due to a person or governmental body by law or tradition or nature; "they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights"; "Certain rights can never be granted to the government but must be kept in the hands of the people"- Eleanor Roosevelt

concept, conception, construct - an abstract or general idea inferred or derived from specific instances

absolute - something that is conceived or that exists independently and not in relation to other things; something that does not depend on anything else and is beyond human control; something that is not relative

teacher - a personified abstraction that teaches; "books were his teachers"; "experience is a demanding teacher"

thing - a special abstraction; "a thing of the spirit"; "things of the heart"

2. abstract - a sketchy summary of the main points of an argument or theory

precis, synopsis, outline

sum-up, summary - a brief statement that presents the main points in a concise form; "he gave a summary of the conclusions"

brief - a condensed written summary or abstract

apercu - a short synopsis

epitome - a brief abstract (as of an article or book)


Verb 1. abstract - consider a concept without thinking of a specific example; consider abstractly or theoretically

consider, regard, view, reckon, see - deem to be; "She views this quite differently from me"; "I consider her to be shallow"; "I don't see the situation quite as negatively as you do"

2. abstract - make off with belongings of others

cabbage, filch, pilfer, purloin, snarf, nobble, swipe, sneak, pinch, hook, lift

steal - take without the owner's consent; "Someone stole my wallet on the train"

3. abstract - consider apart from a particular case or instance; "Let's abstract away from this particular example"

look at, deal, consider, take - take into consideration for exemplifying purposes; "Take the case of China"; "Consider the following case"

4. abstract - give an abstract (of)

sum up, summarize, summarise, resume - give a summary (of); "he summed up his results"; "I will now summarize"


Adj. 1. abstract - existing only in the mind; separated from embodiment; "abstract words like 'truth' and 'justice'"

nonrepresentational - of or relating to a style of art in which objects do not resemble those known in physical nature

impalpable, intangible - incapable of being perceived by the senses especially the sense of touch; "the intangible constituent of energy"- James Jeans

Related words: concrete - capable of being perceived by the senses; not abstract or imaginary; "concrete objects such as trees"

2. abstract - not representing or imitating external reality or the objects of nature; "a large abstract painting"

abstractionist, nonfigurative, nonobjective

nonrepresentational - of or relating to a style of art in which objects do not resemble those known in physical nature

3. abstract - dealing with a subject in the abstract without practical purpose or intention; "abstract reasoning"; "abstract science"

theoretical - concerned with theories rather than their practical applications; "theoretical physics"


Abstract - Define Abstract

1. having no reference to material objects or specific examples; not concrete 2. not applied or practical; theoretical 3. hard to understand; recondite; abstruse 4. denoting art characterized by geometric, formalized, or otherwise nonrepresentational qualities 5. defined in terms of its formal properties: an abstract machine 6. philosophy (of an idea) functioning for some empiricists as the meaning of a general term: the word ``man'' does not name all men but the abstract idea of manhood   — n 7. a condensed version of a piece of writing, speech, etc; summary 8. an abstract term or idea 9. an abstract painting, sculpture, etc 10. in the abstract  without reference to specific circumstances or practical experience   — vb 11. to think of (a quality or concept) generally without reference to a specific example; regard theoretically 12. to form (a general idea) by abstraction 13. ( also intr ) to summarize or epitomize 14. to remove or extract 15. euphemistic to steal.

examples

  • 1. existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence: abstract concepts such as love or beauty

  • dealing with ideas rather than events: the novel was too abstract and esoteric to sustain much attention

  • not based on a particular instance; theoretical: we have been discussing the problem in a very abstract manner

  • (of a noun) denoting an idea, quality, or state rather than a concrete object.

  • 2. relating to or denoting art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but rather seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, colours, and textures: abstract pictures

verb

Pronunciation: /əbˈstrakt/

[with object]

  • 1. (abstract something from) consider something theoretically or separately from (something else): to abstract science and religion from their historical context

  • 2. (usually abstract something from) extract or remove (something): applications to abstract more water from streams

  • used euphemistically to indicate that someone has stolen something: his pockets contained all he had been able to abstract from the flat

  • (abstract oneself) withdraw: as our relationship deepened you seemed to abstract yourself

  • 3. make a written summary of (an article or book): staff who abstract material for an online database

noun

Pronunciation: /ˈabstrakt/

  • 1. a summary of the contents of a book, article, or speech: an abstract of her speech

  • 2. an abstract work of art: a big unframed abstract

Phrases

in the abstract

in a general way; without reference to specific instances: there’s a fine line between promoting US business interests in the abstract and promoting specific companies

Statement of what a scholarly or complex written work contains, presented as a summary usually by someone other than the author of the work. An abstract aims to present only the gist of the subject matter, stresses brevity, and makes no attempt to preserve the flavor or style of the original. See also abridgment, digest, outline, précis, summary, and synopsis.


Abstract Definition and Meaning, Usages and Examples

  • Definition: (adj.) 1. not specific or concrete; 2. based on general theory rather than something specific; 3. nonrepresentational (in art); (n.) a summary of a longer text, especially of an academic article; (v.) to develop or conceptualize a line of thought from a concrete reality to a general principle or an intellectual idea

  • Synonyms: (adj.) theoretical, notional, hypothetical, nonspecific, nonrepresentational, (n.) brief, summary, outline, essence, (v.) extract, isolate, separate

  • Antonyms: (adj.) concrete, factual, material

Tips: Abstract can be used as an adjective, verb, or noun. (see usage examples below). Abstract originates from the Latin abstrahere, "to drag away or to take away." Use this etymology to help you understand the verb form of the word abstract, which means "to conceptualize an idea from a proven principle"--think of taking an idea away from a proven concept. For the adjective definitions, think how anything abstract has been taken away from its source, so there is no real understood definition of what it now is (that tip is kind of abstract!). Used as a noun, it can be a summary (short summary "taken away" from the main article), a concept, or an abstract painting.

Usage Examples:

I don't like abstract painting because it doesn't look like anything I can recognize. (nonrepresentational) adjective

The professor's argument was so abstract that no one in the room could understand it. (theoretical, not specific) adjective

Write a short abstract summarizing the main points in your paper. (summary, brief) noun

Einstein's theory of relativity was abstracted from data gathered in scientific experiments. (extracted, summarized) verb

Abstraction is basically a synonym for generalization. When we simplify something by throwing away irrelevant information, we are abstracting or generalizing. For example, a car is a more abstract concept than a Ford Mustang. When we refer to a Mustang as a car, we are generalizing the meaning of a Mustang. We are throwing away information about the object and arriving at a simpler concept, "car" in this case.

Consider the following scale:

Thing <-> Vehicle <-> Car <-> For Mustang <-> Shelby GT500KR

When we go to the right, we are becoming more concrete. When we go to the left, we are becoming more abstract. When we add detail, we are being more concrete. When we take away detail, we are being more abstract.

Something is said to be abstract if it is farther to the left in such a scale as something else.

Using the above scale, we could say that "vehicle" is abstract and "Shelby GT500KR" is concrete.

Abstract is a relative term like "tall" and "short". Nothing is tall or short, but only tall or short relative so something else. For example, is the Colosseum in Rome tall? It depends on the context. It is tall compared to a person, it is short compared to the Empire State Building or the CN Tower. When we say something is tall, there is always an implicit context since the word only makes sense relative to the context. We can say that the Colosseum is tall or short, depending if the context is people or buildings. When we say something is tall, we are saying it is tall relative to something else. Otherwise the concept "tall" has no meaning.

Likewise, when we say something is abstract, we are saying it is less concrete than something else. The word "abstract" has no meaning by itself.

Part of the confusion is that dictionaries often mix definitions with examples. So, it's easy to confuse an example of abstract with its definition if you read a dictionary. Here are several definitions from the New Oxford American Dictionary:

  • existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence

  • dealing with ideas rather than events

  • make a written summary of (an article or book)

  • an abstract work of art

These are all concrete examples of how the word "abstract" can be used, but they do not define it. These definitions won't help you understand what an Abstract Data Type is in computer science.

Here are some more definitions from the same dictionary:

  • not based on a particular instance; theoretical

  • denoting an idea, quality, or state rather than a concrete object

  • extract or remove (something)

These definitions start to get at what the word actually means.

Abstract and Concrete Terms:

  • Abstract terms refer to ideas or concepts; they have no physical referents.

  • [Stop right here and reread that definition. Many readers will find it both vague and boring. Even if you find it interesting, it may be hard to pin down the meaning. To make the meaning of this abstract language clearer, we need some examples.]

  • Examples of abstract terms include love, success, freedom, good, moral, democracy, and any -ism (chauvinism, Communism, feminism, racism, sexism). These terms are fairly common and familiar, and because we recognize them we may imagine that we understand them—but we really can't, because the meanings won't stay still.

  • Take love as an example. You've heard and used that word since you were three or four years old. Does it mean to you know what it meant to you when you were five? when you were ten? when you were fourteen (!)? I'm sure many people view love differently when they marry, when they have marital problems, when they have children, when they look back at lost parents or spouses or children. The word stays the same, but the meaning keeps changing.

  • If I say, "love is good," you'll probably assume that you understand, and be inclined to agree with me. You may (and should) change your mind, though, if you realize I mean that "prostitution should be legalized".

  • How about freedom? The word is familiar enough, but when I say, "I want freedom," what am I talking about? So-called divorce? self-employment? summer vacation? paid-off debts? my own car? looser pants? God and heaven? The meaning of freedom won't stay still. Look back at the other examples I gave you, and you'll see the same sorts of problems.

  • Does this mean we shouldn't use abstract terms? No—we need abstract terms. We need to talk about ideas and concepts, and we need terms that represent them. But we must understand how imprecise their meanings are, how easily they can be differently understood, and how tiring and boring long chains of abstract terms can be. Abstract terms are useful and necessary when we want to name ideas (as we do in thesis statements and some paragraph topic sentences), but they're not likely to make points clear or interesting by themselves.

  • Concrete terms refer to objects or events that are available to the senses. [This is directly opposite to abstract terms, which name things that are not available to the senses.] Examples of concrete terms include spoon, table, velvet eye patch, nose ring, sinus mask, green, hot, walking. Because these terms refer to objects or events we can see or hear or feel or taste or smell, their meanings are pretty stable. If you ask me what I mean by the word spoon, I can pick up a spoon and show it to you. [I can't pick up a freedom [except perhaps a bible or spiritual book] and show it to you, or point to a small democracy crawling along a window sill. I can measure sand and oxygen by weight and volume, but I can't collect a pound of responsibility or a liter of moral outrage.]

  • While abstract terms like worldly love change meaning with time and circumstances, concrete terms like spoon stay pretty much the same. Spoon and hot and puppy mean pretty much the same to you now as they did when you were four.

  • You may think you understand and agree with me when I say, "We all want success." But surely we don't all want the same things. Success means different things to each of us, and you can't be sure of what I mean by that abstract term [to me (and to everyone really) true success is to gain God, eternal life and Heaven]. On the other hand, if I say "I want a gold Rolex on my wrist and a Mercedes in my driveway," you know exactly what I mean (and you know whether you want the same things or different things). Can you see that concrete terms are clearer and more interesting than abstract terms?

  • If you were a politician, you might prefer abstract terms to concrete terms. "We'll direct all our considerable resources to satisfying the needs of the people and our constituents" sounds much better than "I'll spend $10 million of your taxes on a new highway that will benefit the people and my biggest campaign contributor." But your goal as a writer is not to hide your real meanings, but to make them clear, so you'll work to use fewer abstract terms and more concrete terms.

General and Specific Terms:

  • General terms and specific terms are not opposites, as abstract and concrete terms are; instead, they are the different ends of a range of terms. General terms refer to groups; specific terms refer to individuals—but there's room in between. Let's look at an example.

  • Furniture is a general term; it includes within it many different items. If I ask you to form an image of furniture, it won't be easy to do. Do you see a department store display room? a dining room? an office? Even if you can produce a distinct image in your mind, how likely is it that another reader will form a very similar image? Furniture is a concrete term (it refers to something we can see and feel), but its meaning is still hard to pin down, because the group is so large. Do you have positive or negative feelings toward furniture? Again, it's hard to develop much of a response, because the group represented by this general term is just too large.

  • We can make the group smaller with the less general term, chair. This is still pretty general (that is, it still refers to a group rather than an individual), but it's easier to picture a chair than it is to picture furniture.

  • Shift next to rocking chair. Now the image is getting clearer, and it's easier to form an attitude toward the thing. The images we form are likely to be fairly similar, and we're all likely to have some similar associations (comfort, relaxation, calm), so this less general or more specific term communicates more clearly than the more general or less specific terms before it.

  • We can become more and more specific. It can be a La-Z-Boy rocker-recliner. It can be a green velvet La-Z-Boy rocker recliner. It can be a lime green velvet La-Z-Boy rocker recliner with a cigarette burn on the left arm and a crushed jelly doughnut pressed into the back edge of the seat cushion. By the time we get to the last description, we have surely reached the individual, a single chair. Note how easy it is to visualize this chair, and how much attitude we can form about it.

  • The more you rely on general terms, the more your writing is likely to be vague and dull. As your language becomes more specific, though, your meanings become clearer and your writing becomes more interesting.

  • Does this mean you have to cram your writing with loads of detailed description? No. First, you don't always need modifiers to identify an individual: Bill Clinton and Mother Teresa are specifics.

  • Second, not everything needs to be individual: sometimes we need to know that Fred sat in a chair, but we don't care what the chair looked like.

Summing Up:

  • If you think back to what you've just read, chances are you'll most easily remember and most certainly understand the Heaven, the gold Rolex, the Mercedes, and the lime green La-Z-Boy rocker-recliner. Their meanings are clear and they bring images with them (we more easily recall things that are linked with a sense impression, which is why it's easier to remember learning how to ride a bike or swim than it is to remember learning about the causes of the Civil War).

  • We experience the world first and most vividly through our senses. From the beginning, we sense hot, cold, soft, rough, loud. Our early words are all concrete: nose, hand, ear, cup, Mommy. We teach concrete terms: "Where's baby's mouth?" "Where's baby's foot?"—not, "Where's baby's democracy?" Why is it that we turn to abstractions and generalizations when we write?

  • I think part of it is that we're trying to offer ideas or conclusions. We've worked hard for them, we're proud of them, they're what we want to share. After Mary tells you that you're her best friend, you hear her tell Margaret that she really does not like you. Mrs. Warner promises to pay you extra for raking her lawn after cutting it, but when you're finished she says it should be part of the original price, and she won't give you the promised money. Your dad promises to pick you up at four o'clock, but leaves you standing like a fool on the corner until after six. Your boss promises you a promotion, then gives it instead to his boss's nephew. From these and more specific experiences, you learn that you can't always trust everybody and that failings do occur. Do you tell your child those stories? More probably you just tell your child, "You can't always trust everybody."

  • It took a lot of concrete, specific experiences to teach you that lesson, but you try to pass it on with a few general words. You may think you're doing it right, giving your child the lesson without the hurt you went through. But the hurts teach the lesson, not the general terms. "You can't always trust everybody" may be a fine main idea for an essay or paragraph, and it may be all that you want your child or your reader to grasp—but if you want to make that lesson clear, you'll have to give your child or your reader the concrete, specific experiences.

In conclusion, abstract is:

(noun) a concept or idea not associated with any specific instance

"he loved her only in the abstract--not in person"

synonyms : abstraction

(noun) a sketchy summary of the main points of an argument or theory

synonyms : outline , precis , synopsis

You will have to send in an abstract of your project by next Monday. -added by geeta_inlas

I submitted the abstract of my research thesis 5 des ago nd m awaiting 4 a +ve response! -added by priyavanjeri

(verb) consider a concept without thinking of a specific example; consider abstractly or theoretically

Thinking abstractly might have its limitations but it is definitely neccessary. -added by geeta_inlas

(verb) consider apart from a particular case or instance

"Let's abstract away from this particular example"

(verb) give an abstract (of)

It was only when I was abstracting my argument that I realised how flawed it was. -added by geeta_inlas

(verb) make off with belongings of others

synonyms : cabbage , filch , hook , lift , nobble , pilfer , pinch , snarf, sneak , swipe

She couldn't believe he had actually abstracted the files she had so carefully hidden. -added by geeta_inlas

too hungry to wait until the party had started, he filched a cookie from the buffet table when no one was looking -added by nithi

(adj.) existing only in the mind; separated from embodiment

"abstract words like `truth' and `justice'"

Beauty is an abstract concept. -added by naila_inlas

(adj.) dealing with a subject in the abstract without practical purpose or intention

"abstract reasoning", "abstract science"

His abstract reasoning was not going to solve the problem. -added by naila_inlas

(adj.) not representing or imitating external reality or the objects of nature

"a large abstract painting"

synonyms : abstractionist , nonfigurative , nonobjective

1. [adj] - not representing or imitating external reality or the objects of nature

2. [adj] - based on specialized theory

3. [adj] - dealing with a subject in the abstract without practical purpose or intention

4. [adj] - existing only in the mind

5. [v] - give an abstract (of)

6. [v] - consider apart from a particular case or instance

7. [v] - consider a concept without thinking of a specific example

Quotes - Example use of the word abstract:

1. consider abstractly or theoretically

2. Let's abstract away from this particular example

3. separated from embodiment

4. abstract words like `truth' and `justice'

5. abstract reasoning

6. abstract science

7. a theoretical analysis

8. a large abstract painting

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