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 Antonietta has nothing to say as Pirandello piles up airy castles of epistolary romance. Tim Parks, The New York Review of Books, "Characters in Search of a Conflict," 23 Feb. 2021 The announcement attracted even more acclaim from gullible political commentators than her father’s epistolary flourish had done. Jacob Silverman, The New Republic, "Liz and Dick Cheney Are No American Heroes," 13 Jan. 2021 The trio, who share a house and the epistolary project, are all past Renaissance Festival players, experienced in taking on personas. Kevyn Burger Special To The Star Tribune, Star Tribune, "Twin Citians get COVID creative to bring Christmas spirit to young believers," 11 Dec. 2020 Much of the romantic relationship is epistolary, too. Amy Collier, The New Yorker, "How Dating During a Pandemic Is Like Being in a Jane Austen Novel," 4 Dec. 2020 As the days of shutdown drag on — as we Americans are forbidden from traveling to most nations in the world — this approach begins to feel as old-fashioned as an epistolary Victorian novel. Jason Wilson, Washington Post, "During the pandemic, a lifelong travel writer takes a journey inward to reflect on what he has learned around the globe," 14 Oct. 2020 Since the epistolary format of Bram Stoker’s original novel cannot be mimicked exactly in other formats, every adaptation of Dracula gets to figure out its own take on the material. Christian Holub, EW.com, "The best new comics to read in October: Spooky season is here," 6 Oct. 2020 Indeed, it is generally agreed that Austen's most famous work, Pride and Prejudice, began as an epistolary novel called First Impressions, consisting exclusively of letters between the characters. Ted Scheinman, Smithsonian Magazine, "A New Edition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Crosses Its T’s and Dots Its I’s," 15 Sep. 2020 Two-character epistolary plays are well suited to the restrictive requirements of Zoom webcasting during the pandemic. Terry Teachout, WSJ, "‘Dear Liar’ and ‘Twelfth Night’ Reviews: Love Talk," 27 Aug. 2020

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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Last Updated

28 Feb 2021

Cite this Entry

“Epistolary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epistolary. Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for epistolary



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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