Definition of essence in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈɛs(ə)ns/


[mass noun]
1The intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, which determines its character: conflict is the essence of drama
More example sentences
  • Her portrayal of the sexy evangelist Reno Sweeney was outstanding, catching the very essence of this character.
  • Usually the design process involves taking messy reality and isolating its abstract essence.
  • The chief aim of this inquiry has been to shed light on the nature and essence of the disagreement between the two.
quintessence, soul, spirit, ethos, nature, life, lifeblood, core, heart, centre, crux, nub, nucleus, kernel, marrow, meat, pith, gist, substance, principle, central part, fundamental quality, basic quality, essential part, intrinsic nature, sum and substance, reality, actuality;
Philosophy  quiddity, esse
informal nitty-gritty
1.1 [count noun] Philosophy A property or group of properties of something without which it would not exist or be what it is: Locke’s scepticism about our ability to penetrate to the real essences of things
More example sentences
  • Do essences (or properties in general) exist in the physical world?
  • Whereas the immediate explanation of the actuality of Aristotle's substances lay in what they were essentially, that was not the case with Avicenna's essences, for their status was that of the merely possible.
  • That is, items in all the categories are definable, so items in all the categories have essences - just as there is an essence of man, there is also an essence of white and an essence of musical.
2An extract or concentrate obtained from a plant or other matter and used for flavouring or scent: vanilla essence
More example sentences
  • Whip the evaporated milk until frothy and then add the jelly, cheese, vanilla essence and lemon juice.
  • The addition of two drops of vanilla essence in the glasses masked the flavour of both the beverages.
  • Cream butter and vanilla essence in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
extract, concentrate, concentration, quintessence, distillate, elixir, abstraction, decoction, juice, tincture, solution, suspension, dilution;
scent, perfume



in essence

Basically and without regard for peripheral details; fundamentally: in detail the class system is complex but in essence it is simple
More example sentences
  • Football, in essence, is competitive and it is important for the health of the game that it remains so.
  • Because in essence, power is getting other people to accept your interpretation of things.
  • They say that the mind works, in essence, like an enormously complicated algorithm.
basically, fundamentally, elementally, essentially, at bottom, at heart, primarily, principally, chiefly, firstly, predominantly, substantially, in substance, materially;
above all, first of all, most of all, first and foremost;
effectively, in effect, virtually, to all intents and purposes, intrinsically, inherently;
French au fond
informal at the end of the day, when all is said and done, when you get right down to it

of the essence

Critically important: time will be of the essence during negotiations
More example sentences
  • But with such a worrying deadline, speed is of the essence for the company.
  • I suppose I don't need to say that speed is of the essence here, but I will anyway.
  • For the critically ill or injured time may be of the essence.
vital, essential, indispensable, crucial, key, necessary, needed, required, called for, requisite, important, all-important, vitally important, of the utmost importance, of great consequence, critical, life-and-death, imperative, mandatory, compulsory, obligatory, urgent, pressing, burning, compelling, acute, paramount, pre-eminent, high-priority, significant, consequential


Late Middle English: via Old French from Latin essentia, from esse 'be'.

  • Essence comes via Old French from Latin essentia, from esse ‘to be’. An early meaning was ‘being, existence’. In alchemy it was used in the phrase fifth essence or quintessence. Alchemists believed this substance to be latent in all bodies and thus to be extractable by distillation: this probably led to essence's use for ‘an extract obtained from a plant with therapeutic qualities’, reinforced by the sense ‘indispensable quality or constituent’.

Words that rhyme with essence

acquiescence, adolescence, arborescence, coalescence, convalescence, deliquescence, effervescence, evanescence, excrescence, florescence, fluorescence, incandescence, iridescence, juvenescence, luminescence, obsolescence, opalescence, phosphorescence, pubescence, putrescence, quiescence, quintessence

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: es|sence

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.