Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French, from Latin elementum
Date: 13th century
a. any of the four substances air, water, fire, and earth formerly believed to compose the physical universe
b. plural weather conditions; especially violent or severe weather <battling the elements> c. the state or sphere natural or suited to a person or thing <at school she was in her element> 2. a constituent part: as a. plural the simplest principles of a subject of study ; rudiments b. (1) a part of a geometric magnitude <an infinitesimal element of volume> (2) a generator of a geometric figure; also a line or line segment contained in the surface of a cone or cylinder (3) a basic member of a mathematical or logical class or set (4) one of the individual entries in a mathematical matrix or determinant c. a distinct group within a larger group or community <the criminal element in the city> d. (1) one of the necessary data or values on which calculations or conclusions are based (2) one of the factors determining the outcome of a process e. any of the fundamental substances that consist of atoms of only one kind and that singly or in combination constitute all matter f. a distinct part of a composite device g. a subdivision of a military unit 3. plural the bread and wine used in the Eucharist Synonyms: element, component, constituent, ingredient mean one of the parts of a compound or complex whole. element applies to any such part and often connotes irreducible simplicity <the basic elements of geometry>. component and constituent may designate any of the substances (whether elements or compounds) or the qualities that enter into the makeup of a complex product; component stresses its separate entity or distinguishable character <the components of a stereo system>. constituent stresses its essential and formative character <the constituents of a chemical compound>. ingredient applies to any of the substances which when combined form a particular mixture <the ingredients of a cocktail>.
New Collegiate Dictionary. 2001.