In America, "substance" has the denotative meanings listed in the other writeups. However, it may also refer euphemistically to recreational drugs. Common phrases include "substance abuse" and "controlled substances."

Another use of the term maps the tangible/intangible dichotomy onto thought, so that a communication that is "substantial" has significant data, meaning, or information. One that is "insubstantial" has less to say. Consider these two conversations:

How are you?
Fine, thanks.

How are you?
Pretty happy, ever since I beat back those demons that were trying to invade through my dog's water bowl, as a result of the alchemical experiments I conducted with my father when I was seven years old. If you ever need to stop any demons, you should know that they like tubers.
That's fascinating. I wonder if that's why my parents abandoned me and sent me to live on Uncle Grant's rutabaga farm when I was a girl.

The first conversation is insubstantial. The second is substantial.

Sub"stance (?), n. [F., fr. L. substantia, fr. substare to be under or present, to stand firm; sub under + stare to stand. See Stand.]


That which underlies all outward manifestations; substratum; the permanent subject or cause of phenomena, whether material or spiritual; that in which properties inhere; that which is real, in distinction from that which is apparent; the abiding part of any existence, in distinction from any accident; that which constitutes anything what it is; real or existing essence.

These cooks, how they stamp, and strain, and grind, And turn substance into accident! Chaucer.

Heroic virtue did his actions guide, And he the substance, not the appearance, chose. Dryden.


The most important element in any existence; the characteristic and essential components of anything; the main part; essential import; purport.

This edition is the same in substance with the Latin. Bp. Burnet.

It is insolent in words, in manner; but in substance it is not only insulting, but alarming. Burke.


Body; matter; material of which a thing is made; hence, substantiality; solidity; firmness; as, the substance of which a garment is made; some textile fabrics have little substance.


Material possessions; estate; property; resources.

And there wasted his substance with riotous living. Luke xv. 13.

Thy substance, valued at the highest rate, Can not amount unto a hundred marks. Shak.

We are destroying many thousand lives, and exhausting our substance, but not for our own interest. Swift.

5. Theol.

Same as Hypostasis, 2.


© Webster 1913.

Sub"stance, v. t.

To furnish or endow with substance; to supply property to; to make rich.



© Webster 1913.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.