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[ab-is] /ˈæb ɪs/
a woman who is the superior of a convent of nuns.
1275-1325; Middle English abbesse < Old French abbesse, abaesse < Late Latin abbātissa, feminine of abbās abbot; replacing Middle English abbatisse < Late Latin; in turn replacing Old English abadisse, abbodesse (compare Old High German abbatissa) < Late Latin *ab(b)adissa for abbātissa
Usage note
See -ess. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for abbess
  • He told his foreman about his dream and gift and was taken immediately to see the abbess.
British Dictionary definitions for abbess


the female superior of a convent
Word Origin
C13: from Old French, from Church Latin abbātissa
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for abbess

c.1300, abbese, from Old French abbesse, from Late Latin abbatissa, fem. of abbas (see abbot). Replaced earlier abbotess.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Article for abbess

the title of a superior of certain communities of nuns following the Benedictine Rule, of convents of the Second Order of St. Francis (Poor Clares), and of certain communities of canonesses. The first historical record of the name is on a Roman inscription dated c. 514.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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