Definition of unique in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /juːˈniːk/


1Being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else: the situation was unique in British politics original and unique designs
More example sentences
  • His logic is still unique, but unlike his huge stage, his canvas hasn't broadened.
  • Only mankind is unique, in that unlike the fox, he kills his own species by the tens of thousands.
  • The brain is unique in that, unlike any other organ, it can tell you about itself.
distinctive, individual, special, especial, idiosyncratic, quirky, eccentric, isolated;
rare, uncommon, unusual, peculiar, novel, strange, odd;
informal one-off
1.1 (unique to) Belonging or connected to (one particular person, place, or thing): a style of architecture that is unique to Portugal
More example sentences
  • However I could not spot any items that would be unique to this venue.
  • The Sierra Nevada is particularly rich in them, with 50 varieties unique to the mountains.
  • It is a myth to claim that this is an experience unique to expatriate life.
peculiar, specific, particular, found only in;
characteristic of, typical of
1.2Particularly remarkable, special, or unusual: a unique opportunity to see the spectacular Bolshoi Ballet
More example sentences
  • However, by the opening of his act we knew that this was to be a remarkably unique performance.
  • As it is rarely seen outside Japan this is a unique opportunity for people in New Zealand to view it.
  • This is a unique opportunity to get hands on experience of museum work.


A unique person or thing: some of Lamb’s writings were so memorably beautiful as to be uniques in their class
More example sentences
  • One of Quebec's best-known impressionist painters, Sammoun is represented in the United States by Marco Fine Art of El Segundo, Calif., which also publishes the artist's hand-painted uniques in editions of 200 pieces on canvas.
  • The second-order jackknife estimator incorporates the number of uniques, duplicates, and the number of quadrats sampled.
  • Sammoun's limited editions are hand-painted uniques in editions of 100, plus proofs.


There is a set of adjectives—including unique, complete, equal, infinite, and perfect—whose core meaning embraces a mathematically absolute concept and which therefore, according to a traditional argument, cannot be modified by adverbs such as really, quite, or very. For example, since the core meaning of unique (from Latin ‘one’) is ‘being only one of its kind’, it is logically impossible, the argument goes, to submodify it: it either is ‘unique’ or it is not, and there are no in-between stages. In practice the situation in the language is more complex than this. Words like unique have a core sense but they often also have a secondary, less precise sense: in this case, the meaning ‘very remarkable or unusual’, as in a really unique opportunity. In its secondary sense, unique does not relate to an absolute concept, and so the use of submodifying adverbs is grammatically acceptable.


Early 17th century: from French, from Latin unicus, from unus 'one'.

  • one from Old English:

    Like the other main number words, one goes back to Old English. It shares an ancient root with Latin unus, and so is linked with such words as unique (early 17th century), unity (Middle English), and unison (Late Middle English). The one that got away is a term for something desirable that has eluded capture. The phrase comes from the angler's traditional way of trying to impress by boasting ‘You should have seen the one that got away’. A one-horse town is a small town with hardly any facilities, particularly in the USA. Such towns are associated with the Wild West, and the term is first recorded in a US magazine of 1855. The previous year, though, there is a record of a specific place of that name: ‘The principal mining localities are…Whiskey Creek, One Horse Town, One Mule Town, Clear Creek [etc.].’ Also American is the one-trick pony, a person with only one talent or area of expertise. This goes back to the days of travelling circuses in the early 20th century. It would be a poor circus whose pony had only one trick. Once and future refers to someone or something that is eternal, enduring, or constant. It probably comes from T. H. White's The Once and Future King (1958), a series of novels about King Arthur. In White's story the enchanter Merlyn says to Arthur: ‘Do you know what is going to be written on your tombstone? Hic jacet Arthurus Rex quondam Rexque futurus. Do you remember your Latin? It means, the once and future king.’ A bad experience can make you wary of the same thing happening again, a feeling which might be summed up concisely with the words once bitten, twice shy. The expression has been around since the late 19th century, although in the USA you might say instead once burned, twice shy.

Words that rhyme with unique

antique, batik, beak, bespeak, bezique, bleak, boutique, cacique, caïque, cheek, chic, clique, creak, creek, critique, Dominique, eke, freak, geek, Greek, hide-and-seek, keek, Lalique, leak, leek, Martinique, meek, midweek, Mozambique, Mustique, mystique, oblique, opéra comique, ortanique, peak, Peake, peek, physique, pique, pratique, reek, seek, shriek, Sikh, sleek, sneak, speak, Speke, squeak, streak, teak, technique, tongue-in-cheek, tweak, veronique, weak, week, wreak

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: unique

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.