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

An autobiography in plaster, paint and physical objects, Strawberry Hill was a counterpoint to the 4,000 letters that made Walpole one of the sharpest correspondents of an epistolary age. Dominic Green, WSJ, "One Man’s Gothic Fantasy," 26 Oct. 2018 Hey man, this newsletter only needs a little embellishment to be extremely trendy autofiction written in epistolary fashion, just saying. Elizabeth Lopatto, The Verge, "SpaceX gets into space tourism while the Department of Justice gets into Tesla," 21 Sep. 2018 Her story bridges, much as Couto himself does, various narrative modes: the epistolary and the oracular, the chronicle of the colonial expedition and the fabulism of a universe unbounded by time. Sheila Glaser, New York Times, "A Fable of Mozambique, Its Bloodshed and Myths," 8 June 2018 This epistolary approach evokes a measure of intimacy and illuminates the undeniable complexities of the Israeli history, across the millennia. Barbara Mahany, chicagotribune.com, "Jimmy Carter's latest book, 'Faith,' leads this week's roundup of spiritual books," 9 July 2018 The Stray Letter: True to the epistolary age in which it was written, letters play a huge role in Farquhar’s plot, which grows especially confusing and diffuse after intermission. Mike Fischer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Love and death in Spring Green: 'The Recruiting Officer,' 'Exit the King'," 3 July 2018 Specifically, Netflix's adaptation of the epistolary novel stars Lily James as writer Juliet Ashton, a novelist who receives a letter from the titular society asking to learn more about her. Kathryn Lindsay, refinery29.com, "Netflix’s Newest Romance Actually Has Nothing To Do With Potatoes," 28 June 2018 At its heart is the epistolary duel between former lovers the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, whose letter-writing commitment and brio go some way to excuse their moral depravity. Jeffrey Gantz, BostonGlobe.com, "Sex as a weapon in Nora’s all-male ‘Liaisons’," 5 June 2018 Novels like Dracula, The Mysteries of Udolpho, or Frankenstein often drew upon the material of ordinary life, either by using epistolary forms or simply beginning their narration in the normal world. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "Weird Fiction Is Alive," 7 May 2018

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

The first known use of epistolary was circa 1656

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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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