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


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plural epistolaries
: a lectionary containing a body of liturgical epistles

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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
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson This moving epistolary novel from 2005 earned Robinson the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and inspired three of the author’s subsequent novels. Mia Barzilay Freund, Vogue, 29 Mar. 2024 Red Footwear Is in for Spring By Laura Jackson Jane Austen’s acerbic wit takes center stage in Whit Stillman’s social satire based on her epistolary novel Lady Susan. Radhika Seth, Vogue, 22 Feb. 2024 For The New Yorker, columnist Naomi Fry assembles and analyzes campaign fundraising emails like an epistolary novel. Susan Howson, Quartz, 11 Feb. 2024 But the epistolary style of the book is used not to dish dirt or list grievances. Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times, 6 Feb. 2024 The epistolary 1982 novel, which included letters to God, was spare and sparse. Kyle Smith, WSJ, 21 Dec. 2023 It's told in epistolary format (with emails messages, letters) as lawyers try and figure out what happened. Michael Stillwell, Town & Country, 12 Aug. 2023 This is an epistolary romance about two rival agents on opposite sides of a endless time war who write incredibly beautiful threats –– no, love letters, back and forth. USA TODAY, 11 Aug. 2023 Love & Friendship Official Trailer #1 (2016) - Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny Movie HD Watch on Based on Lady Susan, an epistolary novel by Jane Austen, Love & Friendship tells the story of a young widow trying to find eligible men for both herself and her daughter. Amy MacKelden, ELLE, 30 June 2023
This epidemic of epistolary obscenities first began to show up at the door of one Edith Swan (Olivia Colman), a pious Christian woman who lives with her parents down the lane. David Fear, Rolling Stone, 27 Mar. 2024 Dracula is an epistolary novel, meaning that its story unfolds via a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, and other fragments which together form a complete narrative. Philip Ellis, Men's Health, 11 Aug. 2023 This book is full of mixed media/epistolary elements and tells its story in such a unique way. USA TODAY, 9 Aug. 2023 Duncan’s good literary friends and pen pals have included Wendell Berry, Jim Harrison, Barry Lopez and Brian Doyle, and his epistolary habit migrates into his fiction, where characters often swap soul-baring letters. John Williams, Washington Post, 7 Aug. 2023 In the modern equivalent of an epistolary relationship, Minoui found them on Facebook and communicated with them through FaceTime, Skype, and WhatsApp. Lara Vergnaud., Foreign Affairs, 13 Oct. 2020 The two then trade long, impassioned (epistolary) arguments — also reproduced in this book’s pages. Joan Frank, Washington Post, 15 June 2023 It’s written in an epistolary style, and I was taken by how the writing itself uses spelling, grammar, punctuation and diction to indicate the rise and loss of the fictive author’s cognitive skills, reflecting the story line. New York Times, 4 May 2023 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

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'epistolary.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use


circa 1656, in the meaning defined at sense 1


circa 1900, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of epistolary was circa 1656


Dictionary Entries Near epistolary

Cite this Entry

“Epistolary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epistolary. Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


: of, relating to, or suitable to a letter
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