Difference between Abstract and Concrete

Published on December 30, 2016

In general, words can be classified into two categories: abstract or concrete. This concept may sound simple, but these terms are sometimes incorrectly interchanged. “Abstract” and “concrete” are actually two opposing concepts so they should not be confused with each other. This article will discuss the difference between the two.

Definitions

Abstract vs Concrete

The word abstract refers to things that do not physically exist. Abstract words talk about:

  1. Ideas and concepts; for example: feminism, mystery
  2. State of mind or being; for example: independence, bravery
  3. Qualities and characteristics; for example: kindness, generosity
  4. Condition; for example: disease, sickness
  5. Emotions; for example: hate, like
  6. Actions; for example: deceit, acceptance
  7. Events; for example: Independence Day, November

It can be difficult to create illustrations or explanations for abstract words because we understand their meanings by how we, personally, envision them to be. This is why our explanation of these words may change over time. For example, your definition of “success” when you were 15 years old may not be the same as when you turn 40 years old.

Moreover, in reported speech, the term “abstract” refers to words and phrases that are unclear and not specific. Let’s take a look at the following example:

  • John built furniture using simple tools.

In this statement, it is unclear as to what tool John used and as to what furniture he created and thus this is an abstract statement.

concrete

On the other hand, the term concrete refers to things that can be seen, felt, heard, smelled, or spoken. In other words, concrete words are tangible nouns like persons, places, things, and animals. The meanings of these words are constant and do not change according to how we perceive them individually. For example:

  1. Table
  2. Shirt
  3. Mom
  4. President
  5. Pizza

Furthermore, concrete words are used to clarify statements by specifying things in reported speech. Let’s go back to the previous example:

  • John built a kiddie chair using a hammer and a few 3-inch nails.

In the statement above, the statement is made clear by the use of concrete terms like “kiddie chair,” “hammer,” and “3-inch nails.”

Abstract vs Concrete

What, then, is the difference between abstract and concrete?

The two terms are actually opposites. Abstract words talk about concepts, ideas, events, actions, qualities, emotions, conditions, and states of mind or being. These words do not have physical forms. On the contrary, concrete words refer to tangible nouns or things that can be seen, heard, spoken, smelled, or felt. Furthermore, the meanings of abstract words may change with time or situations. The meanings of concrete words do not change.

In reported speech, concrete nouns are used to specify meaning in a statement while abstract words provide unclear and general meanings.

Comparison Chart

AbstractConcrete
Refers to ideas, emotions, a state of mind or being, qualities, events, or actionsRefers to persons, places, food, animals, and other objects
Does not have a physical existenceTangible and is available to the senses
Meaning can change with time or situationsMeaning is stable
In reported speech, abstract words provide unclear and general meaningIn reported speech, concrete words provide a specific meaning