Definition of substance in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈsəbstəns/


1A particular kind of matter with uniform properties: a steel tube coated with a waxy substance
More example sentences
  • Well, soap is a unique substance of potassium fatty acid salts, produced through a chemical reaction called saponification.
  • Hydrochloric acid is a corrosive substance, as such it can be used to clean metal surfaces.
  • The only non-sugar sweetener at present licensed for use in most countries is saccharin, a synthetic substance made from coal tar.
material, matter, stuff
1.1An intoxicating, stimulating, or narcotic chemical or drug, especially an illegal one.
Example sentences
  • He is now being charged with the illegal purchase of narcotic substances.
  • The Navajo Nation Council passed a law making methamphetamine an illegal substance on the reservation last month.
  • The drugs used can be intoxicating or illegal substances, or some sort of hypnotic drug.
2The real physical matter of which a person or thing consists and which has a tangible, solid presence: proteins compose much of the actual substance of the body
More example sentences
  • In particular, he believed the body was made of physical substance extended in space while the mind or soul was non-physical and not extended.
  • Or is it that your idea of perfection is such that the less actual substance on a body, the better?
  • The Red Balloon was now big and round and felt more alive, now he had substance, a hollow physical body.
solidity, body, corporeality;
density, mass, weight, shape, structure
2.1The quality of having a solid basis in reality or fact: the claim has no substance
More example sentences
  • A great deal of deception concerns form or opinions - not substance or facts.
  • We should not make cheap heroes of people in opposition by accident or opportunism, but we should seek out the fact and substance in all opinions expressed.
  • There seems no reason to deny that the history of the West is in fact and substance different from that of other regions.
2.2The quality of being dependable or stable: some were inclined to knock her for her lack of substance
More example sentences
  • While I thought he was charming, I thought he lacked substance; most viewers apparently thought he exuded leadership.
  • Campbell made his maiden speech to the lobby group's recent annual dinner, appearing a little dour and uncertain as he gave the vote of thanks, but friends say this should not be read as a lack of substance.
  • And the last two presidential elections, the reason why we lost, was a lack of substance.
character, backbone, mettle
3The quality of being important, valid, or significant: he had yet to accomplish anything of substance
More example sentences
  • Even in church-related colleges, many wondered whether denominational affiliation signified anything of substance.
  • I have no inspiration or inclination to write anything with any substance at the moment.
  • So Parliament must have intended that the part of the house, in order to be material, would be of sufficient substance or significance to have an effect of some kind.
3.1The most important or essential part of something; the real or essential meaning: the substance of the treaty
More example sentences
  • As far as possible, the essential meaning or substance of each oath, and the formality and solemnity of the oaths, are retained.
  • Sometimes the humour and observations are crude and sexist, but to focus on these entries is to ignore the political substance of what is on offer.
  • Regardless of how anyone surrounds the concept, racial profiling boiled down to its essential substance is racism.
meaningfulness, significance, importance, import, validity, foundation
formal moment
3.2The subject matter of a text, speech, or work of art, especially as contrasted with the form or style in which it is presented.
Example sentences
  • Appearance should be balanced with content, style with substance, the medium with the message.
  • The chief criticism of his speech was not its style but its substance.
  • But the triumph of style over substance is always subject to the law of diminishing returns.
content, subject matter, theme, message, essence
3.3Wealth and possessions: a woman of substance
More example sentences
  • By the time he believes his eyes are beginning to fail, he considers himself a man of wealth and substance.
  • In the later nineteenth century a full figure had been a mark of beauty for woman and a sign of health, wealth, and substance for men.
  • He came across as someone who knew who he was and was comfortable with himself - a strong, centred man of substance.
wealth, fortune, riches, affluence, prosperity, money, means
3.4 Philosophy The essential nature underlying phenomena, which is subject to changes and accidents.
Example sentences
  • Account allowed the immaterial substance to have a nature over and above the kinds of state we would regard as mental.
  • At the same time, an attribute is so called because the intellect attributes a certain nature to substance.
  • All substance of whatever nature is reducible to one or other of nine different kinds: earth, water, fire, air, ether, space, time, self, and mind.


in substance

Essentially: basic rights are equivalent in substance to human rights
More example sentences
  • Such restrictions cannot however be regarded as equivalent in substance to a prohibition on manufacture and marketing.
  • This can be illustrated briefly with references to two examples that are very different in substance but identical in principle.
  • People in various agencies who have reviewed the draft confirmed that it matched the final report in substance.


Middle English (denoting the essential nature of something): from Old French, from Latin substantia 'being, essence', from substant- 'standing firm', from the verb substare.

  • This word was first used to refer to the essential nature of something. It comes from Old French, from Latin substantia ‘being, essence’, from the verb substare ‘stand firm’. The word was used to refer to a ‘solid thing’ from the late 16th century.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: sub·stance

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