in essence


  1. the basic, real, and invariable nature of a thing or its significant individual feature or features: Freedom is the very essence of our democracy.
  2. a substance obtained from a plant, drug, or the like, by distillation, infusion, etc., and containing its characteristic properties in concentrated form.
  3. an alcoholic solution of an essential oil; spirit.
  4. a perfume; scent.
  5. Philosophy. the inward nature, true substance, or constitution of anything, as opposed to what is accidental, phenomenal, illusory, etc.
  6. something that exists, especially a spiritual or immaterial entity.

  1. in essence, essentially; at bottom, often despite appearances: For all his bluster, he is in essence a shy person.
  2. of the essence, absolutely essential; critical; crucial: In chess, cool nerves are of the essence.


  1. the characteristic or intrinsic feature of a thing, which determines its identity; fundamental nature
  2. the most distinctive element of a thingthe essence of a problem
  3. a perfect or complete form of something, esp a person who typifies an abstract qualityhe was the essence of gentility
  4. philosophy
    1. the unchanging and unchangeable nature of something which is necessary to its being the thing it is; its necessary propertiesCompare accident (def. 4)
    2. the properties in virtue of which something is called by its name
    3. the nature of something as distinct from, and logically prior to, its existence
  5. theol an immaterial or spiritual entity
    1. the constituent of a plant, usually an oil, alkaloid, or glycoside, that determines its chemical or pharmacological properties
    2. an alcoholic solution of such a substance
  6. a substance, usually a liquid, containing the properties of a plant or foodstuff in concentrated formvanilla essence
  7. a rare word for perfume
  8. in essence essentially; fundamentally
  9. of the essence indispensable; vitally important

late 14c., essencia (respelled late 15c. on French model), from Latin essentia “being, essence,” abstract noun formed (in imitation of Greek ousia “being, essence”) from essent-, present participle stem of esse “to be,” from PIE *es- (cf. Sanskrit asmi, Hittite eimi, Old Church Slavonic jesmi, Lithuanian esmi, Gothic imi, Old English eom “I am;” see be). Originally “substance of the Trinity,” the general sense of “basic element of anything” is first recorded in English 1650s, though this is the base meaning of the first English use of essential.

Basically, by nature, as in He is in essence a very private person or In essence, they were asking the wrong question. This term employs essence in the sense of “intrinsic nature,” a usage dating from the mid-1600s.

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