“Time is of the essence”… of what?

I’m having a hard time understanding the purpose or meaning of the definite article, the in the common phrase, Time is of the essence.

My first thought is that it refers to the task that is time-sensitive, but certainly time or timeliness is not the essence of that task (unless perhaps the task is to set a clock).

Can anyone shed light on this formulation?


According to my New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd Edition), the phrase of the essence means

critically important

When it is said, “Time is of the essence,” it is implied that time is in short supply or it is of the utmost importance. Therefore, if this statement is used with regard to a certain task, then that task must be completed as quickly as possible, and with a sense of urgency.

Anything can be of the essence in any given situation. Examples:

  • Your concentration will be of the essence here. Put your mind squarely to the task at hand.
  • A keen interest in this job is of the essence, otherwise you lose it!
  • Consistent hard work is of the essence in this course; don’t fall into lassitude.

Source : Link , Question Author : Jay , Answer Author : Jimi Oke

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