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The adjective is derived from Late Middle English immaterial, inmateriall (incorporeal; spiritual),[1] from Middle French immateriel (not material) (modern French immatériel), and from its etymon Medieval Latin immāteriālis (not material), from Latin im- (a variant of in- (prefix meaning ‘not’)) + māteriālis (made of matter, material) (from māteria (matter, substance, material) (possibly from Proto-Indo-European *dem- (to arrange, put together; to build (up))) + -ālis (suffix forming adjectives of relationship)).[2][3] The English word is analysable as im- +‎ material.

The noun is derived from the adjective.[2]



immaterial (comparative more immaterial, superlative most immaterial)

  1. Having no matter or substance; incorporeal.
    Synonyms: intangible, nonmaterial, unmaterial; see also Thesaurus:insubstantial
    Antonyms: corporeal, material, tangible; see also Thesaurus:substantial
    Some believe that because ghosts are immaterial, they can pass through walls.
  2. Of the nature of the soul or spirit; spiritual.
    • 1662, Edward Stillingfleet, “Of the Being of God”, in Origines Sacræ, or A Rational Account of the Grounds of Christian Faith, [], London: [] R[obert] W[hite] for Henry Mortlock [], →OCLC, book III, page 411:
      [T]here are ſome beings in the vvorld vvhich cannot depend upon matter or motion, i.e. that there are ſome ſpiritual and immaterial ſubstances or Beings [] If there be then ſuch things in the vvorld vvhich matter and motion cannot be the cauſes of, then there are certainly spiritual and immaterial Beings, and that I ſhall make appear both as to the minds of men, and to ſome extraordinary effects vvhich are produced in the vvorld.
  3. (figurative)
    1. Of no importance; inconsequential, insignificant, unimportant.
      Synonyms: see Thesaurus:insignificant
      Antonyms: see Thesaurus:important
      • 1859–1861, [Thomas Hughes], chapter 1, in Tom Brown at Oxford: [], part 1st, Boston, Mass.: Ticknor and Fields, published 1861, →OCLC, page 11:
        He has also been good enough to recommend to me many tradesmen who are ready to supply these articles in any quantities; each of whom has been here already a dozen times, cap in hand, and vowing that it is quite immaterial when I pay—which is very kind of them; []
    2. (rare) Having or seeming to have very little substance; insubstantial, slight.
      Synonyms: diaphanous, flimsy, gossamer; see also Thesaurus:insubstantial
      • c. 1602 (date written), William Shakespeare, The Famous Historie of Troylus and Cresseid. [] (First Quarto), London: [] G[eorge] Eld for R[ichard] Bonian and H[enry] Walley, [], published 1609, →OCLC, [Act V, scene i], signature K, recto:
        No, vvhy art thou then exaſperate, thou idle, / immaterial ſkeine of ſleiue ſilke; thou greene ſacenet flap for a ſore eye, thou toſſell of a prodigalls purſe— []
      • 1815 December (indicated as 1816), [Jane Austen], chapter XVI, in Emma: [], volume II, London: [] [Charles Roworth and James Moyes] for John Murray, →OCLC, pages 303–304:
        Mr. Woodhouse considered eight persons at dinner together as the utmost that his nerves could bear—and here was a ninth— [] She [Emma] comforted her father better than she could comfort herself, by representing that though he certainly would make them nine, yet he always said so little, that the increase of noise would be very immaterial.
    3. (chiefly law) Especially of evidence; chiefly followed by to: not associated in any way that is important or useful to the context being discussed; irrelevant.
      Synonyms: neither here nor there, ungermane; see also Thesaurus:unconnected
      Antonyms: germane, material, pertinent, relevant; see also Thesaurus:connected
      Objection, your Honour! The defendant’s criminal record is immaterial to this case.

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immaterial (countable and uncountable, plural immaterials)

  1. (countable, chiefly in the plural) A being or entity having no matter or substance.
  2. (countable, chiefly in the plural) A thing which is abstract or intangible; (uncountable) chiefly preceded by the: things which are abstract or intangible considered collectively.
    • c. 1670s (date written), Thomas Brown [i.e., Thomas Browne], “Sect[ion] XIV”, in John Jeffery, editor, Christian Morals, [], Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: [] [A]t the University-Press, for Cornelius Crownfield printer to the University; and are to be sold by Mr. Knapton []; and Mr. [John] Morphew [], published 1716, →OCLC, part III, page 100:
      Lodge immaterials in thy Head: aſcend unto inviſibles: fill thy Spirit vvith Spirituals, vvith the myſteries of Faith, the magnalities of Religion, and thy Life vvith the Honour of God; []
    • 1906, Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], “What Is Man? Chapter VI. Instinct and Thought.”, in What Is Man? And Other Essays, New York, N.Y.; London: Harper & Brothers, published May 1917, page 107:
      And we do absolutely know that these men's inborn temperaments have remained unchanged through all the vicissitudes of their material affairs. Let us see how it is with their immaterials.



  1. ^ immateriāl, adj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 immaterial, adj. and n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, July 2023.
  3. ^ immaterial, adj.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]