• epistolary
  • audio pronunciation
  • \ih-PIST-uh-lair-ee\
  • DEFINITION

adjective

1
: of, relating to, or suitable to a letter
2
: contained in or carried on by letters
3
: written in the form of a series of letters
  • EXAMPLES

"Jonathan Franzen, with whom he had struck up an epistolary friendship, offered to get together that April when he was in Boston." — From D.T. Max's 2012 biography Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace

"If we replace simple letters with their instant always-on alternatives, we relinquish so much epistolary architecture too. The elegant opening address and sign-off, the politeness of tone and the correct grammar and spelling." — From an article by Simon Garfield in The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), February 14, 2014

  • DID YOU KNOW?

"Epistolary" was formed from the noun "epistle," which refers to a composition written in the form of a letter to a particular person or group. In its original sense, "epistle" refers to one of the 21 letters (such as those from the apostle Paul) found in the New Testament. Dating from the 13th century, "epistle" came to English via Anglo-French and Latin from the Greek noun "epistolē," meaning "message" or "letter." "Epistolē," in turn, came from the verb "epistellein," meaning "to send to" or "to send from." "Epistolary" appeared in English four centuries after "epistle" and can be used to describe something related to or contained in a letter (as in "epistolary greetings") or composed of letters (as in "an epistolary novel").

Word Family Quiz: The above paragraph contains another English word (in addition to "epistle") that is related to "epistolary." Which word is it? The answer is …

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