What does the idiom "in the abstract" mean?

in the abstract is an idiom used by many writers. When idioms are used in the right place, they open the doors of effective communication and increase your descriptive power. In this way, you will be better understood. The meaning of the expression in the abstract is also remarkable in this respect.

Meaning of "in the abstract"


The phrase "in the abstract" is used to indicate that a concept is being discussed in a general way, without a specific instance or example. It is often used to talk about theoretical or philosophical ideas that one finds interesting, but would not necessarily use in a practical or real-world context. For example, one might say that they find a certain argument "interesting in the abstract," but not actually apply it in practice.


The phrase "in the abstract" has been in use since at least the 16th century, first appearing in print in John Fenton's 1576 translation of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. The phrase comes from the Latin "abs”, meaning “away”, combined with “trahere” meaning “to draw”. In the 16th century, it was used to mean “considered apart from any particular instance", which is still its primary meaning today.


The phrase "in the abstract" is primarily used in academic and philosophical contexts, as it is a way to refer to concepts or ideas without using concrete examples. For example, a professor might talk about the history of ethics in the abstract, without going into details about specific ethical theories or doctrines. It can also be used in a less serious context, to refer to something that sounds interesting but is not actually feasible. For example, someone might say that they like the idea of time travel in the abstract, but don't think it is actually possible.

Example Sentences

  • "I find the idea of a utopian society interesting in the abstract, but I don't think it is actually achievable."
  • "He was discussing the principles of ethics in the abstract, without giving any specific examples."
  • "She said she liked the idea of flying cars in the abstract, but that she didn't think they were practical."

The meanings of the words in the "in the abstract" idiom

From Shakespeare to Social Media: The Evolution of English Idioms

English idioms have been around for centuries, with many originating from sources like literature, mythology, and everyday life. Shakespeare, for example, coined many phrases that are still used today, such as "break the ice" and "heart of gold." Over time, new idioms have emerged, with social media and popular culture providing rich sources of inspiration. For instance, the phrase "throwing shade" came into use in the 1990s thanks to ball culture, but has since been popularized by social media.


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