epis·​to·​lary | \ i-ˈpi-stə-ˌler-ē How to pronounce epistolary (audio) , ˌe-pi-ˈstȯ-lə-rē How to pronounce epistolary (audio) \

Definition of epistolary

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : of, relating to, or suitable to a letter
2 : contained in or carried on by letters an endless sequence of … epistolary love affairsThe Times Literary Supplement (London)
3 : written in the form of a series of letters an epistolary novel


plural epistolaries

Definition of epistolary (Entry 2 of 2)

: a lectionary containing a body of liturgical epistles

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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").

Examples of epistolary in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The film, which documents an epistolary bond between two lonely souls, gives Khan a role that bears amusing parallels to his Salaam Bombay! Mayukh Sen, The Atlantic, "There Was No One Like Irrfan Khan," 30 Apr. 2020 The epistolary friendship began when an eight-year old boy named Corona De Vries heard the news that Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, had tested positive for the virus and were in self-isolation in Australia. Melissa Locker, Time, "Tom Hanks Gave His Corona Typewriter to a Kid Bullied Over Having the Name Corona," 24 Apr. 2020 This winter brings the first complete English translation of Sade’s vast epistolary novel, Aline and Valcour, in a lavish, three-volume edition from Contra Mundum. Mitchell Abidor, The New York Review of Books, "Reading Sade in the Age of Epstein," 12 Feb. 2020 Five months earlier, Bryant had announced his retirement unconventionally, with a 52-line epistolary poem published in The Players' Tribune. Jeva Lange, TheWeek, "Kobe Bryant's other great gift was storytelling," 27 Jan. 2020 On the centenary of Cunningham’s birth, two works aim to honor the man and his art: Alla Kovgan’s documentary Cunningham and the epistolary collection Love, Icebox: Letters from John Cage to Merce Cunningham. Rumaan Alam, The New Republic, "Merce Cunningham’s Dance Out of Time," 18 Dec. 2019 In her recent collection The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon, Christine Flanagan shares the story of a primarily epistolary and literary friendship in which two writers discuss aesthetics, techniques, and the merits of books. Jessica Hooten Wilson, National Review, "A New Collection of Letters Feeds the Hunger for More Flannery O’Connor," 24 Oct. 2019 Their epistolary friendship ends suddenly, with no explanation, until a drunken Griffin sends Luca an angry letter that tosses them headlong back into their friendship with a new element of heat. Maureen Lee Lenker, EW.com, "Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward talk the inherent sexiness of letter writing, reveal Dirty Letters cover," 18 July 2019 The epistolary format of Semple’s book (piecing together emails, diary entries, memos, and the like) is better suited to unraveling the circumstances of her disappearance. David Sims, The Atlantic, "Richard Linklater’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette Is a Gripping Mess," 16 Aug. 2019

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

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First Known Use of epistolary


circa 1656, in the meaning defined at sense 1


circa 1900, in the meaning defined above

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Time Traveler for epistolary

Time Traveler

The first known use of epistolary was circa 1656

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Cite this Entry

“Epistolary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epistolary. Accessed 5 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for epistolary


How to pronounce epistolary (audio) How to pronounce epistolary (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of epistolary

: of or relating to a letter : suitable to a letter
: written in the form of a series of letters

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