sur·​re·​al sə-ˈrē(-ə)l How to pronounce surreal (audio)
 also  -ˈrā-əl
: marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream
also : unbelievable, fantastic
surreal sums of money
surreality noun
surreally adverb

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In 1924 a group of European poets, painters, and filmmakers founded a movement that they called Surrealism. Their central idea was that the unconscious mind (a concept Sigmund Freud had recently made famous) was the source of all imagination, and that art should try to express its contents. The unconscious, they believed, revealed itself most clearly in dreams. The Surrealist painters included René Magritte, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí, whose "limp watches" painting became the best-known Surrealist image of all. Since those years, we've used surreal to describe all kinds of situations that strike us as dreamlike. And even though the Surrealist movement ended long ago, surrealism now seems to be everywhere—not just in painting, literature, and movies but also in blogs, video games, and graphic novels.

Example Sentences

Despite all the hassle, though, I would not want an ordinary name. I know of one other person in the world who shares my name, first and last. I know nothing about her except that she lived in New York at the same time I did, and that she and I subscribed to a few of the same publications. I found myself in the surreal position of having to explain to circulation departments that I was, in fact, me, and not that other version of me on the West Side. Johnna Kaplan, Newsweek, 3 Mar. 2008
Films aren't just a part of life for people in India; they are a way of life. The over-the-top, surreal dance numbers in nearly every Bollywood film often make no sense in relation to the story, but no one seems to be complaining. Shashank Samant, The Out Traveler, May/June 2005
The movie achieves a truly rare mix of the absurd, the surreal, and the heartfelt. Improbably, its wacked-out premise and structural hilarity concoct a melancholy meditation on love, loss, and memory, while delivering a message—subversive to our culture's therapeutic optimism—about the tragedy of healing. Rand Richards Cooper, Commonweal, 23 Apr. 2004
The whole thing was completely surreal.
Recent Examples on the Web Thursday’s draft selection, Smith said Friday, is no longer surreal. Michael Gehlken, Dallas News, 29 Apr. 2023 The moments that followed the call were surreal, a blur of disbelief and panic. Daniel Arkin, NBC News, 27 Apr. 2023 After Roe, the gory truth matters more than ever July 19, 2022 Created by acclaimed playwright and showrunner Alice Birch, and anchored by a riveting dual performance by Weisz, the series maintains the surreal, uncanny tone of the original film, which starred a deliciously sinister Jeremy Irons. Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times, 22 Apr. 2023 It's long been my favorite show on television, so to be working here now and see my name on the show is really surreal. Vanessa Etienne, Peoplemag, 20 Apr. 2023 The choice felt surreal. Carina Chocano, Harper's BAZAAR, 23 Mar. 2023 The encounter was mystical and surreal. Ernie Cowan, San Diego Union-Tribune, 18 Mar. 2023 Having my brother there, his first time in America, and my future best man was just surreal! Jordan Harvey, Peoplemag, 19 Apr. 2023 This new present-day scene with a connection to my family had offered a similar feeling of the surreal, with the darkness bathed in emergency lights and puzzle pieces of what had happened falling together. Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press, 17 Apr. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'surreal.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


back-formation from surrealism

First Known Use

1937, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of surreal was in 1937

Dictionary Entries Near surreal

Cite this Entry

“Surreal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 May. 2023.

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