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

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. Epistle came to English in the 13th century, 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 Rosenthal brings his epistolary jazz opera to Charter Oak Cultural Center, 21 Charter Oak Ave., Hartford on April 2 at 8:15 p.m. in a concert version sung by vocalists from the NYC Opera premiere and played by the Ted Rosenthal Trio. Christopher Arnott, courant.com, 25 Mar. 2022 There is an epistolary chapter that reads less like a series of emails than a diagram of human manipulation. Lauren Mechling, Vogue, 21 Mar. 2022 Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, this epistolary romantic novel tells the story of two time-traveling rivals who fall in love. Emily Burack, Town & Country, 20 Mar. 2022 Hirshman turns these epistolary spats into page-turning reading, revealing backbiting and pettiness more at home in a teenage clique than in a moral crusade. Lydia Moland, BostonGlobe.com, 3 Feb. 2022 This epistolary book by the famed Atlantic writer reflects on racism’s long shadow. Emma Sarappo, The Atlantic, 1 Feb. 2022 The epistolary impulse, Tiller knows, often comes from a desire to correct or to confess, and to extract meaning from the mess of our days. Alejandro Chacoff, The New Yorker, 3 Jan. 2022 This 1950s Egyptian epistolary novel is told by a young woman looking back on the misery, patriarchy and middle-class life that surrounded her upon her return from boarding school. New York Times, 16 Dec. 2021 In the American countryside during the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the mail came once a week, on the same day, providing a nice rhythm for epistolary romances and a chance to scold relatives. The New Yorker, 15 Nov. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun One of my favorite works of the transfeminine epistolary is an unpublished poem by Cat Fitzpatrick, a long letter written to her best cis male friend. Jeanne Thornton, Harper's BAZAAR, 9 Nov. 2021 In the case of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker, poets and public intellectuals, a friendship to a great extent epistolary flourished despite the geographical distance — Lorde was in New York City, Parker in California. New York Times, 12 Apr. 2021 See More

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.

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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The first known use of epistolary was circa 1656

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Last Updated

5 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Epistolary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epistolary. Accessed 21 May. 2022.

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