bil·​dungs·​ro·​man ˈbil-du̇ŋ(k)s-rō-ˌmän How to pronounce bildungsroman (audio)
literature : a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character
a bildungsroman by Charles Dickens

Did you know?

Bildungsroman is the combination of two German nouns: Bildung, meaning "education," and Roman, meaning "novel." (Nouns in German are always capitalized.) Fittingly, a bildungsroman is a novel that deals with the formative years of the main character, and in particular, with the character's psychological development and moral education. The bildungsroman usually ends on a positive note, with the protagonist's foolish mistakes and painful disappointments over, and a life of usefulness ahead. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's late 18th-century work Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship is often cited as the classic example of a bildungsroman. Though the term is primarily applied to novels, in recent years some English speakers have begun to apply it to films that deal with a youthful character's coming-of-age.

Examples of bildungsroman in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web This is, in many ways, a classic bildungsroman swathed in an even more conventional romantic comedy. Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter, 4 Apr. 2024 But the movie’s director, Yorgos Lanthimos, is not content with a linguistic bildungsroman. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 12 Feb. 2024 This wrestling with how to build a life in spite of the pull that loss exerts on us is Annis’s bildungsroman, the story of her spiritual education. Imani Perry, New York Times, 13 Oct. 2023 In our list of dark horrors, twisting mysteries, and nostalgic bildungsromans, there’s something for everyone looking to get in the school spirit. Elena Giardina,, 15 Sep. 2023 There’s the sob story, the gallant bildungsroman, the louche chronicle of various addictive behaviors, the righteous making of an activist, the victory lap. Rachel Syme, The New Yorker, 14 Nov. 2023 Advertisement Allow for a moment, though, that there’s something to all of this: that novels put us in touch with other minds and expand our own, each new text improving us a little more — serving, in aggregate, as bildungsromans of those who read them. Jacob Brogan, Washington Post, 18 July 2023 First published in 1973, the novel is essentially a bildungsroman that shatters into atrocity and gossip in its final act. Rachel Cusk, Harper's Magazine, 21 Sep. 2023 Unlike the biography of many famous concert pianists, the story of Vogt’s life reads less like a hagiography and more like a bildungsroman: a calling, an arduous apprenticeship, and a mature artistry that was ultimately less about solitary stardom and more about musical community. Max Norman, The New Yorker, 5 Sep. 2023

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

Word History


German, from Bildung education + Roman novel

First Known Use

1906, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of bildungsroman was in 1906


Dictionary Entries Near bildungsroman

Cite this Entry

“Bildungsroman.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2024.

More from Merriam-Webster on bildungsroman

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!