illiterate

adjective
il·​lit·​er·​ate | \(ˌ)i(l)-ˈli-t(ə-)rət \

Definition of illiterate 

1 : having little or no education especially : unable to read or write an illiterate population

2a : showing or marked by a lack of familiarity with language and literature an illiterate magazine

b : violating approved patterns of speaking or writing

3 : showing or marked by a lack of acquaintance with the fundamentals of a particular field of knowledge musically illiterate

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from illiterate

illiterate noun
illiterately adverb
illiterateness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for illiterate

ignorant, illiterate, unlettered, untutored, unlearned mean not having knowledge. ignorant may imply a general condition or it may apply to lack of knowledge or awareness of a particular thing. an ignorant fool ignorant of nuclear physics illiterate applies to either an absolute or a relative inability to read and write. much of the population is still illiterate unlettered implies ignorance of the knowledge gained by reading. an allusion meaningless to the unlettered untutored may imply lack of schooling in the arts and ways of civilization. strange monuments built by an untutored people unlearned suggests ignorance of advanced subjects. poetry not for academics but for the unlearned masses

Illiterate, Aliterate, and Innumerate

Illiterate may be used in both specific and general senses. When used specifically, it refers to the inability to read or write. In a more general sense, illiterate may signify a lack of familiarity with some body of knowledge (as in being "musically illiterate") or indicate a lack of competence in or familiarity with literature.

Illiteracy may be contrasted with aliteracy, which is “the quality or state of being able to read but uninterested in doing so.” And in case you were wondering, a person who is unable to understand or perform basic mathematics, as opposed to reading, is innumerate.

Examples of illiterate in a Sentence

Constantine is listed in the 1870 census as illiterate; 10 years later, he had learned to read and write. And when, in 1906, the local "colored school" was slated for destruction, Constantine arranged to save it by having it moved to this property. — Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Wall Street Journal, 1 Feb. 2006 Martin is not illiterate but I think close to it. I never saw him read a newspaper, for instance. — Hayden Carruth, Reluctantly, 1998 In a time when nearly everyone was illiterate, before newspapers, radio, and television, how could the religious and iconographic detail of these apparitions have been so similar? — Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, 1996 She didn't want anyone to know that she was illiterate. She is politically illiterate and has never voted in an election. He's illiterate when it comes to computers.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Some are illiterate and don't know how to spell the children's names. The Christian Science Monitor, "Next hurdle at the border: how to reunite children with families," 21 June 2018 Some are illiterate and don't know how to spell the children's names. The Christian Science Monitor, "Next hurdle at the border: how to reunite children with families," 21 June 2018 This was most evident in how participants discussed medieval religion with disdain, often envisioning illiterate people universally believing whatever came from a maniacal Catholic Church, even when a film conflicted with this notion. Scott Manning, Philly.com, "Paul B. Sturtevant's 'Middle Ages': Learning a little history from popular culture," 1 May 2018 There used to be a lot of illiterate people around here. Washington Post, "AP Photos: Storytelling by painting alive in Belgian church," 4 Apr. 2018 An optimist might argue that more women are not working because India is still paying for the sins of the past, when so many of them were illiterate and high fertility rates bound them to the home. The Economist, "Why India needs women to work," 5 July 2018 Some are illiterate and don't know how to spell the children's names. The Christian Science Monitor, "Next hurdle at the border: how to reunite children with families," 21 June 2018 Most of these women were illiterate and disempowered to be leaders, but showcased immense political will and leadership to their communities, especially when they were supported and motivated. Preethi Herman, Time, "The Boss: Preethi Herman Is Helping Women Gain Equality Around the World," 2 May 2018 Some are illiterate and don’t know how to spell the children’s names. BostonGlobe.com, "Trump administration has no clear plan yet on how to reunite parents with children," 20 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'illiterate.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of illiterate

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for illiterate

Middle English, from Latin illiteratus, from in- + litteratus literate

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about illiterate

Share illiterate

Dictionary Entries near illiterate

illiquid

illite

illiteracy

illiterate

ill-judged

ill-judging

ill-kempt

Statistics for illiterate

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for illiterate

The first known use of illiterate was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for illiterate

illiterate

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of illiterate

: not knowing how to read or write

: having or showing a lack of knowledge about a particular subject

: not grammatically correct

illiterate

adjective
il·​lit·​er·​ate | \i-ˈli-tə-rət \

Kids Definition of illiterate

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: unable to read or write

illiterate

noun

Kids Definition of illiterate (Entry 2 of 2)

: a person who is unable to read or write

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on illiterate

What made you want to look up illiterate? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

the figure or shape of a crescent moon

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!