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[es-uh ns] /ˈɛs əns/
the basic, real, and invariable nature of a thing or its significant individual feature or features:
Freedom is the very essence of our democracy.
a substance obtained from a plant, drug, or the like, by distillation, infusion, etc., and containing its characteristic properties in concentrated form.
an alcoholic solution of an essential oil; spirit.
a perfume; scent.
Philosophy. the inward nature, true substance, or constitution of anything, as opposed to what is accidental, phenomenal, illusory, etc.
something that exists, especially a spiritual or immaterial entity.
in essence, essentially; at bottom, often despite appearances:
For all his bluster, he is in essence a shy person.
of the essence, absolutely essential; critical; crucial:
In chess, cool nerves are of the essence.
Origin of essence
1350-1400; Middle English essencia < Medieval Latin, for Latin essentia. See esse, -ence
Related forms
self-essence, noun
1. substance, spirit, lifeblood, heart, principle, soul, core. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for essence
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • And, brethren, our self-surrender is the essence of our Christianity.

    Expositions of Holy Scripture Alexander Maclaren
  • That of which the essence is uniformity will be soon described.

  • Its essence is in the form, or perhaps I may rather say in the formlessness, of the law.

    The Sanitary Evolution of London Henry Lorenzo Jephson
  • The essence of the mimus is in pantomime as the name denotes.

    Folkways William Graham Sumner
  • The simplest way to prepare this is to toast white bread cut in strips, then spread each with butter and essence of anchovy.

    Suppers Paul Pierce
British Dictionary definitions for essence


the characteristic or intrinsic feature of a thing, which determines its identity; fundamental nature
the most distinctive element of a thing: the essence of a problem
a perfect or complete form of something, esp a person who typifies an abstract quality: he was the essence of gentility
  1. the unchanging and unchangeable nature of something which is necessary to its being the thing it is; its necessary properties Compare accident (sense 4)
  2. the properties in virtue of which something is called by its name
  3. the nature of something as distinct from, and logically prior to, its existence
(theol) an immaterial or spiritual entity
  1. the constituent of a plant, usually an oil, alkaloid, or glycoside, that determines its chemical or pharmacological properties
  2. an alcoholic solution of such a substance
a substance, usually a liquid, containing the properties of a plant or foodstuff in concentrated form: vanilla essence
a rare word for perfume
in essence, essentially; fundamentally
of the essence, indispensable; vitally important
Word Origin
C14: from Medieval Latin essentia, from Latin: the being (of something), from esse to be
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for essence

late 14c., essencia (respelled late 15c. on French model), from Latin essentia "being, essence," abstract noun formed (in imitation of Greek ousia "being, essence") from essent-, present participle stem of esse "to be," from PIE *es- (cf. Sanskrit asmi, Hittite eimi, Old Church Slavonic jesmi, Lithuanian esmi, Gothic imi, Old English eom "I am;" see be). Originally "substance of the Trinity," the general sense of "basic element of anything" is first recorded in English 1650s, though this is the base meaning of the first English use of essential.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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