Abstract v Concrete        

Home
Contact Information
Program Offerings
Online Courses
Internet Resources
Search
Restricted

 

 

Abstract and Concrete Words

Be specific! That phrase is probably the most basic principle for factual reporting. To write more specifically, one must learn to distinguish between abstract and concrete words. Concrete words are more direct and forceful, for example:

Abstract:    The victim contacted the station and stated that she wanted an officer to respond to her house.

Rewritten:    The victim telephoned the station and said that she wanted to talk to an officer at her home.

Concrete words are nouns; they describe things you experience through your senses: smoke, mist, a shout. Abstract words name qualities: beauty, justice, truth. Concrete words help us describe things; abstract words help us classify them. Concrete words are specific. If someone wrote, "The victim was killed with a tool," we would have no idea what was meant except that someone used something to kill someone. We, of course, would never think of writing this was...or would we? Commonly, law enforcement report writers use the abstract word "indicate," as in "The victim indicated she would not testify against the suspect." 1

A word or phrase is concrete if:

  1. It is specific, particular, real and tangible

  2. It is characterized by or belonging to immediate experience of actual things or events

  3. It provides specific meaning.

A word or phrase is abstract if:

  1. It is insufficiently factual

  2. It has only intrinsic form

  3. There is little or no attempt at written pictorial representation or narrative content

  4. It is unclear, indefinite, imprecise, indistinct, slight, hazy, vacant or obscure

  5. The words or phrases do not provide specific meaning

Concrete words name and describe things in detail. For example:

Objects: a 9mm, blue steel, Sig-Sauer, 15 shot, semi-automatic, handgun

Actions: "I saw him shooting at targets with his 9mm, blue steel, Sig-Sauer, 15 shot, semi-automatic, handgun."

Behaviors: "I saw him aim his 9mm, blue steel, Sig-Sauer, 15 shot, semi-automatic, handgun at the silhouette target and shoot five rounds in the center ring."

Persons: "I saw Officer Jim Cole aim his 9mm, blue steel, Sig-Sauer, 15 shot, semi-automatic, handgun at the bulls-eye target and shoot five rounds in the center ten ring."

Comparison Examples of Abstract and Concrete Words

Common Word Synonyms Concrete (preferred)
Advised recommended
suggested
admonished
related
indicated
said
told
said
told
Stated declared
asserted
verbalized
related
explained
said
told
said
told
Observed viewed
watched
conformed to
noted
saw
saw
Departed drove away
ran away
left
exited
fled
ran away
drove away
Speeded drove quickly
exceeded the legal limit
75 MPH in a 45 MPH zone
Located observed
fixed
established
placed
found
found
Responded telegrammed
telephoned
answered
proceeded
arrived
came and helped me
came and helped me
Fled ran
raced
escaped
departed
exited
drove away in a car
drove away in a car
Noted observed
heard
recorded
saw
saw
Proceeded went
drove
walked
ran
drove
walked
ran
Responded verbally made telephonic contact
sent a letter and replied
sent a telegram and answered
said "No."
sent a telegram
shouted "No!"
Vehicle car
truck
van
sedan
wagon
sport utility vehicle
1990 Volvo 740 sedan
Weapon gun
knife
stick
Glock 9mm semi-automatic
Store market
drug store
liquor store
Von's Market