1. Being the only one of its kind: the unique existing example of Donne's handwriting.
2. Characteristic only of a particular category or entity: a weather pattern that is unique to coastal areas.
3. Remarkable; extraordinary: a unique opportunity to buy a house.
[French, from Old French, from Latin ūnicus; see oi-no- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Usage Note: Unique may be the foremost example of an absolute term—a term that, in the eyes of traditional grammarians, should not allow comparison or modification by an adverb of degree like very, somewhat, or quite. Thus, most grammarians believe that it is incorrect to say that something is very unique or more unique than something else, though phrases such as nearly unique and almost unique are presumably acceptable, since in these cases unique is not modified by an adverb of degree. A substantial majority of the Usage Panel supports the traditional view. In our 2004 survey, 66 percent of the Panelists disapproved of the sentence Her designs are quite unique in today's fashion, although in our 1988 survey, 80 percent rejected this same sentence, suggesting that resistance to this usage may be waning. · In fact, the nontraditional modification of unique may be found in the work of many reputable writers and has certainly been put to effective use: "I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson, and the great-grandson of preachers" (Martin Luther King, Jr.) "The creature is so unique in its style and appearance that the biologists who discovered it have given it not just its own species name ... but have moved way up the classification scale and declared that it is an entirely new phylum" (Natalie Angier). See Usage Notes at absolute, equal.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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:
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.