use-icon

HOW TO USE THE DICTIONARY

Learn what the dictionary tells you about words.

Get Started Now!

Some compound words (like bus rapid transit, dog whistle, or identity theft) don’t appear on the drop-down list when you enter them into the search window. If a compound term doesn’t appear in the drop-down list, try entering the term into the search window and then hit the search button (instead of the “enter” key). Alternatively, begin searches for compound terms with a quotation mark.

use-icon

THE USAGE PANEL

The Usage Panel is a group of nearly 200 prominent scholars, creative writers, journalists, diplomats, and others in occupations requiring mastery of language. The Panelists are surveyed annually to gauge the acceptability of particular usages and grammatical constructions.

The Panelists

puzzle-icon

NEED HELP SOLVING A CROSSWORD PUZZLE?

Go to our Crossword Puzzle Solver and type in the letters that you know, and the Solver will produce a list of possible solutions.

open-icon

INTERESTED IN DICTIONARIES?

Check out the Dictionary Society of North America at http://www.dictionarysociety.com

open-icon

AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY APP

The new American Heritage Dictionary app is now available for iOS and Android.

scroll-icon

INDO-EUROPEAN & SEMITIC ROOTS APPENDICES

Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

Indo-European Roots

Semitic Roots

The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

open-icon

OPEN DICTIONARY PROJECT

Share your ideas for new words and new meanings of old words!

Start Sharing Now!

100-words-icon

See word lists from the best-selling 100 Words Series!

Find out more!

ab·so·lute (ăbsə-lt, ăbsə-lt)
Share:
adj.
1.
a. Unqualified in extent or degree; total: absolute silence.
b. Not limited by restrictions or exceptions: an absolute right.
c. Being fully such; utter: an absolute fool.
d. Unconstrained by constitutional or other provisions: an absolute ruler.
2. Not mixed; pure: absolute oxygen.
3. Not to be doubted or questioned; positive: absolute proof.
4. Grammar
a. Of, relating to, or being a word, phrase, or construction that is isolated syntactically from the rest of a sentence, as the referee having finally arrived in The referee having finally arrived, the game began.
b. Of, relating to, or being a transitive verb when its object is implied but not stated. For example, inspires in We have a teacher who inspires is an absolute verb.
c. Of, relating to, or being an adjective or pronoun that stands alone when the noun it modifies is being implied but not stated. For example, in Theirs were the best, theirs is an absolute pronoun and best is an absolute adjective.
5. Physics
a. Relating to measurements or units of measurement derived from fundamental units of length, mass, and time.
b. Relating to absolute temperature.
6. Law Complete and unconditional; final: an absolute divorce.
n.
1. Something that is absolute.
2. Absolute Philosophy
a. Something regarded as the ultimate and transcendent basis of all thought and being. Used with the.
b. Something regarded as exceeding or transcending everything else to the point of being independent and unrelated.

[Middle English absolut, from Latin absolūtus, unrestricted, past participle of absolvere, to absolve : ab-, away; see AB-1 + solvere, to loosen; see leu- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

abso·luteness n.

Usage Note: An absolute term denotes a property that a thing either can or cannot have. Such terms include absolute itself, chief, complete, perfect, prime, unique, and mathematical terms such as equal and parallel. By strict logic, absolute terms cannot be compared, as by more and most, or used with an intensive modifier, such as very or so. Something either is complete or it isn'tit cannot be more complete than something else. Consequently, sentences such as He wanted to make his record collection more complete, and You can improve the sketch by making the lines more perpendicular, are often criticized as illogical. Such criticism confuses pure logic or a mathematical ideal with the rough approximations that are frequently needed in ordinary language. Certainly in some contexts we should use words strictly logically; otherwise teaching mathematics would be impossible. But we often think in terms of a scale or continuum rather than in clearly marked either/or categories. Thus, we may think of a statement as either logically true or false, but we also know that there are degrees of truthfulness and falsehood. Similarly, there may be degrees of completeness to a record collection, and some lines may be more perpendicularthat is, they may more nearly approximate mathematical perpendicularitythan other lines. See Usage Notes at equal, unique.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

This website is best viewed in Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Safari. Some characters in pronunciations and etymologies cannot be displayed properly in Internet Explorer.