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

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Bildungsroman is the combination of two German words: Bildung, meaning "education," and Roman, meaning "novel." 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 hero's foolish mistakes and painful disappointments over, and a life of usefulness ahead. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's late 18th-century work Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (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.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Shuggie Bain is a kind of bildungsroman: Over the course of the novel, Shuggie comes to better understand himself and his sexuality, while Agnes serves as her generation’s dark warning to her son. Claire Jarvis, The Atlantic, 12 July 2022 Derry Girls, rooted in a bildungsroman structure, naturally finishes when its characters transition into adulthood. Nina Li Coomes, The Atlantic, 15 Oct. 2022 In a bildungsroman, the main character grows—both morally and psychologically. Laura Zornosa, Time, 7 Oct. 2022 With the help of blankly matter-of-fact yet omniscient voice-over narration (spoken by Madeleine James), D’Ambrose achieves the span and the depth of a cinematic bildungsroman in shards of experience and epigrammatic flickers. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 1 Sep. 2022 At long last, here was Spielberg’s song of himself: a bildungsroman from the filmmaker who has shaped nearly half a century of the American popular imagination. Michael Schulman, The New Yorker, 20 Sep. 2022 The episode unfolds like an incestuous bildungsroman (a coming-of-age saga). Josh St. Clair, Men's Health, 12 Sep. 2022 But what kind of bildungsroman would that have been? Anthony Lydgate, WIRED, 6 Sep. 2022 For the past five years, Srinivasan has been living a Silicon Valley bildungsroman. Anthony Lydgate, WIRED, 6 Sep. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'bildungsroman.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 27 Jan. 2023.

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