Does such a word that teeters, or overlaps, between abstract and concrete exist?

For instance, consider violence. It's a term that varies in meaning or definition from person to person until the type of violence is given. And while we may have different understandings of what violence is, a major portion of people recognize when violence is occurring. So terms like violence overlap between the concrete and abstract.

This is very different when it comes to terms like faith, which is almost entirely abstract.

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    Abstract and concrete are relative terms, and they're opinions as well. What's very concrete to one is abstract to another. Violence is an abstract term in that it describes a type of thing without instantiating it. My left little finger is a concrete term, though finger is very abstract, suitable for metaphor. Jan 22, 2021 at 20:55
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    Is this question seeking a term for something that is between abstract and concrete (as the title indicates) or a term for something that overlaps abstract and concrete (as the body of the question seems to indicate). Almost every common noun does the latter in that it can be used for speaking about the relevant class of things in the abstract, as well as for speaking about particular instances of that class.
    – jsw29
    May 22, 2021 at 21:00

1 Answer 1


What is the Question?

The question may seem clear: whether there is a word that indicates something that lies between the abstract and the concrete. However the example given — ‘violence’ — does not seem to have that attribute, and I find the explanation of why the poster considers ‘violence’ as neither abstract nor concrete difficult to follow, especially as he does not contrast this word with ones he considers truly abstract or concrete. If people have different understandings of what the word means, why does he think the majority of people recognize ‘violence when it is occuring’ — or what does he mean? Does he mean that if people see the same video of someone thumping someone else most will regard that as violence, of does he mean that each of us well recognize what we individually regard as violence — some only physical abuse, some also verbal abuse, others also psychological abuse?

In view of this lack of clarity, I now regret having shot off a few suggestions regarding one simple interpretation of the question, as this has drawn a comment that now makes me feel obliged to try to provide a more comprehensive answer. And me only a biological scientist with a profound distrust of philosophy. Fools rush in…

Is there an Answer?

First, I do not think ‘violence’ (or indeed any concept) is a true intermediate between concrete and abstract. Let us consider examples of the two. I’m not sure that words themselves are either concrete or abstract — they are abstract in the sense that they exist in the mind, they are concrete in that when spoken you can hear them. But, agreeing to call them concrete or abstract for the ideas they describe, I suggest that something like ‘football’ is a concrete word as it describes something you can recognize and hold, and ‘beauty’ is an abstract word because it describes a response of the senses. It seems important not to confuse this distinction with precision or ambiguity, because both of these terms mean different things to different people. When I pick up a football it will be spheroidal, whereas for others it will ovoidal, and, of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So, to me ‘violence’ is either a concrete word like ‘homicide’, or an abstract one like ‘evil’.

A more sophisticated consideration of this question can be found elsewhere in SE ELL, as pointed out by @EdwinAshworth.

However, if one must use a word to express the idea of an intermediate between abstract and concrete — given that none appears to be in use — I will borrow one from science:


Biology on Line defines this as follows:

“Amphipathic is a word used to describe a chemical compound containing both polar (water-soluble) and nonpolar (not water-soluble) portions in its structure.”

(Merriam-Webster redirects to ‘amphiphilic’, more used in the physical sciences, but less appropriate here.)

Although used in a specific chemical sense, the derivation from amphis (both) and pátheia (feeling) does not include any specific chemical reference, making the term eminently suitable for application in other spheres.

And an answer to the alternative interpretation of the Question?

However, perhaps the example given by the poster falls into one of the following categories, for which adjectives to describe the concept of violence (“The word violence describes a ........ concept”) are given:

Lack of definition of what the word means


not easy to see or understand


indistinct, vague


capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways


having no definite form

The meaning is still in flux


subject to change or movement


imperfectly formed or formulated

The word can be construed in different ways


capable of adapting to varying conditions

  • Are these established usages that you can give evidence for? There is another thread somewhere saying that mant linguists consider the terms 'concrete' and 'abstract', never mind any D-i-Y terms for 'intermediate stages', unworkable. Aug 23, 2020 at 19:05
  • @EdwinAshworth — Unlike me not to give examples. Probably idling away my time on the phone. I'll have a look when I have a moment. But surely it's not a question of whether linguists think a term unworkable, but whether people are able to use a term to convey the meaning of an idea. It may turn out that I should scrub the answer in the end.
    – David
    Aug 23, 2020 at 20:05
  • No, not 'whether people are able to use a term to convey the meaning of an idea', but (a) whether the 'idea' in question (a gradience between 'concrete' and 'abstract) (both variously defined already) needs refining / replacing; (b) if not, whether a substantial majority of people will be able to use a suggested term to convey the meaning of an idea ... and (c) assuming an accepted linguistic usage (even if not a consensual one) of 'concrete' and 'abstract', felicitously addressing OP's 'Does such a word that teeters, or overlaps, between abstract and concrete exist?' Aug 24, 2020 at 14:22
  • @EdwinAshworth — I’m thinking about it. Genuinely busy today. Anything worth doing here will take me time. Will recast the answer completely and discuss what the question actually means.
    – David
    Aug 24, 2020 at 14:55
  • There has been a previous discussion in which someone actually mentioned the discarding by some psycholinguists of the traditional concrete/abstract dichotomy. I'll try again to find it. Aug 24, 2020 at 15:02

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