Meaning of SUBSTANCE in English


I. ˈsəbztən(t)s, -bst- noun

( -s )

Etymology: Middle English, from Old French, from Latin substantia, from substant-, substans (present participle of substare to stand under, stand firm, from sub- + stare to stand) + -ia — more at stand


a. : essential nature : essence — used especially of the divine nature and then distinguished from hypostasis

being of one substance with the Father — Nicene Creed

b. : a fundamental part, quality, or aspect : essential quality or import : the characteristic and essential part

the substance of his address

distinguish a question of substance from one which is merely procedural — Va. Law Review

considering the plan in its substance as well as its practical advantages

c. Christian Science : god II b(6)


[translation of Greek ousia ]

: something that underlies all outward manifestations whether unique (as in monism), one of two (as in dualism), or one of a large or infinite number (as in pluralism) : ultimate reality whether material or spiritual : the abiding part of existence or an existing thing as distinguished from what is accidental to it : the real essence or nature of a thing: as

a. Aristotelianism & Scholasticism

(1) : the primary category presupposed by all the others : something that is the real subject of predication and cannot itself be predicated of anything : subject

substance … is that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject; for instance, the individual man or horse — E.M.Edghill

(2) : the essence of an existing thing : something that makes a thing what it is or gives it its essential nature

(3) : something that supports attributes or modes or exists as the material of individuation : substratum

(4) : an individual being considered as an existent entity : a subsistent entity compounded of matter and form

(5) : genus 2

(6) : universal 2a (3) — compare nominalism , realism 2

b. Cartesianism

(1) : something that depends on no other thing for its existence

(2) : something that depends only on God for its existence

c. Spinozism : the universal underlying principle that exists and can be conceived independently of any other thing — compare mode 6

d. Leibnizianism : monad 1c

e. : an unknowable imperceivable entity that is the bearer of qualities

if anyone will examine himself concerning his notion of pure substance … he will find he has no other idea of it at all, but only a supposition of he knows not what support of such qualities which are capable of producing simple ideas — John Locke

also : a complex of qualities together with its unknowable bearer

f. Humean philosophy : a collection of qualities regarded as constituting a unity

the idea of a substance … is nothing but a collection of simple ideas, that are united by the imagination, and have a particular name assigned them, by which we are able to recall … that collection — David Hume †1776

g. Kantianism : a permanent subsisting imperishable substratum necessary for the existence and perception of change in time : that which must be posited in order to assume the duration of a thing rather than a succession of phenomena

we can only give to a phenomenon the name of substance because we admit its existence at all times — Friedrich Max Müller

3. archaic : an underlying assurance : basis , ground


a. : material from which something is made and to which it owes its characteristic qualities

the special substances of nerve tissue

a fabric of unknown substance


(1) : a distinguishable kind of physical matter

(2) : a piece or mass of such substance

struck by some hard substance

an oily substance

cork is a substance with distinctive properties

c. : matter of definite or known chemical composition : an identifiable chemical element, compound, or mixture — sometimes restricted to compounds and elements

water is a liquid derived from two gaseous substances

a chemically pure substance

5. : material possessions : estate , property , resources

a man of substance


a. obsolete : the whole amount or tally of something : quantity

b. : the greater part : majority

dissipated the substance of his fortune in a few short years

c. or substance number : basis weight

7. : a material object as distinguished from something shadowy or visionary ; also : solidity , substantiality

an old building but of marked substance

- in substance

II. noun

: something (as drugs or alcoholic beverages) deemed harmful and usually subject to legal restriction

possession of a controlled substance

has a substance problem

Webster's New International English Dictionary.      Новый международный словарь английского языка Webster.