Abstract Words: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Making a New Friend
  • 0:44 Concrete Versus Abstract Words
  • 1:33 Using Concrete and…
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

Abstract words communicate important thoughts in our speech and writing, but they can be tricky because they have many meanings. This lesson explains the difference between abstract and concrete words and relates how using abstract words carefully allows you to communicate more clearly.

Making a New Friend

An extraterrestrial lands in your backyard. Things get tense as he reaches for what looks like a laser gun while you grab your phone and dial 9-1-1. You point to yourself and say, 'Andy.' He points to himself and makes a sound like 'Splrp.' You point down and say, 'grass,' while your visitor repeats it. Soon, you're teaching him other words. You try explaining that the house is your 'home' and he says, 'I thought you said this was a house.' After this exchange you realize that on your visitor's planet, they only have concrete words. Abstract ideas are unlike anything he has encountered before.

Concrete Versus Abstract Words

Concrete words represent things that we can see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. Words like house, chair, lawn, and video are all examples of concrete words.

However, abstract words are the opposite of concrete words. They represent things and concepts that are more intellectual and untouchable. Words like beauty, freedom, and love are all abstract words. Here are a few more examples of abstract words:

peace hate truth chaos
courage faith joy belief
sadness reality success defeat
need idea hurt grace

Using Concrete and Abstract Words

Abstract words often mean different things to different people. They can also mean different things in different contexts. Take the word 'bad,' for example. If someone were to say that some food was bad, it could mean that the food was rotting, or that it wasn't very tasty, or that it's bad for one's health. 'Bad' can mean something else entirely if it's applied to a person. A 'bad' person could be a criminal or it could be someone who is super cool. A 'bad' movie might be so bad it's good. What does 'bad' mean?' Obviously, it can mean at least six different things in different scenarios.

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