Can the word absent be used to refer to a thing? We say absent logic (idea, concept) absent person...etc. But does it sound correct to say absent chair, book (rather than missing). I know that absent and missing have different connotations and usages. "The chair is absent" gives different shades of meaning than "the chair is missing". But does the word absent collocate with things?


Absent certainly can be applied to a thing, or even a person:

I tried to sit down, but the chair was absent.

You were absent from yesterday's meeting.

The main difference between absent and missing is that missing implies the thing, person, or concept, was meant to be present, or cannot be found where as absent simply implies the thing is not there. Absent can be used in practically in situation where missing is appropriate, but missing more specific than absent.

I had a gift for you, but you were absent, so I threw it away.

I had a gift for you, but you were missing, so I threw it away.

In the first example, the person simply wasn't present, but we don't know why. Perhaps they weren't expected to be there at all. In the second example, the person was clearly expected to be there, but they weren't. They may have been home ill, or abducted by aliens. In any case, their presence was expected, but they weren't there.

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    Absent is the word that means "presence was expected, but wasn't there". Missing means "we don't know where he/she/it is".
    – Martha
    Nov 21 '13 at 14:34
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    I think your answer is great, I just wanted to poke at some gray matter. I find the primary distinction you’ve drawn here to be completely accurate to my experience. I’d never actively considered the nature of the difference before now. Nov 21 '13 at 15:22
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    I'd quibble slightly. I think "absent" implies expected to be there but wasn't, while "missing" implies not only absent but we don't know where it is. If Bob called in sick to work today, I'd say he's absent, but I know where he is -- presumably home in bed or maybe at the doctor -- so I wouldn't say he's missing. If we went to his house to console him or whatever and he wasn't there, maybe he wasn't really sick at all and just took a day off to play golf or something -- then we might say he's missing. But if there was no expectation that the person would be there, I don't think we'd say ...
    – Jay
    Nov 21 '13 at 18:30
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    ... that he's absent. Like I wouldn't say that the president was absent from my house today, because no one would suppose that he would be here. RE "Revenge is absent from his mind": By "expected" I don't mean that the presence of whatever would necessarily be a good thing, just that we think that it would be there under what we would consider normal circumstances. I could say, "I was very sick for three days, but on the fourth day the symptoms were all absent." I take the "revenge" sentence to imply that you believed that someone in his circumstances might very well be thinking of revenge.
    – Jay
    Nov 21 '13 at 18:34
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    @Jay: Clearly "absent" can be used that way, but there's no requirement that it implies that. It's easy to find contexts where things are absent, and not expected--or even expected not to be there. "Unicorns are absent from the universe." Nobody (in their right mind) expects to find unicorns in this universe. They are still, by all accounts, absent. The requirement for expectation is absent from the definition of absent. :)
    – Flimzy
    Nov 21 '13 at 21:48

Absence implies that we may have no requirement for the presence of the entity. Missing implies that such requirement exists. In either case our knowledge of the whereabouts of the entity (other than the fact that the entity is not present) is irrelevant. The absence of an entity may well be an anticipated condition while missing implies an exception.

"Absent players will have their hands mucked when the action is on them. Missing players' hands will be 'checked' if no other action is required of them" is a rule in tournament poker concerning what to do when players are not present and it is their turn to "act". In this rule, players who are known to be absent from the facility are eliminated from the hand while players that are temporarily away from their seats are treated differently.

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