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 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 Two of her novels are epistolary, so that the characters take turns speaking in the first person. Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, "Rediscovering Natalia Ginzburg," 22 July 2019 Were there any epistolary novels that inspired you? 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 text-message epistolary novel takes place in a future New York that has imploded into an authoritarian regime, the authority in question being money. Cathleen Schine, The New York Review of Books, "Bonfire of the Bathroom Vanities," 17 Jan. 2019 This work, which took journalist Adam Higginbotham over a decade to research, draws on hundreds of hours of interviews with sources, and also brings in epistolary and unpublished works, along with documents that were formerly classified. NBC News, "Obsessed with 'Fleabag', 'Big Little Lies' or 'Chernobyl'? Binge on one of these books next.," 24 June 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

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The first known use of epistolary was circa 1656

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Last Updated

29 Dec 2019

Cite this Entry

“Epistolary.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epistolary. Accessed 27 January 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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one that suddenly gains wealth or power

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