il·​lit·​er·​ate | \ (ˌ)i(l)-ˈli-t(ə-)rət How to pronounce illiterate (audio) \

Definition of illiterate

1 : having little or no education especially : unable to read or write an illiterate population
2 : showing or marked by a lack of acquaintance with the fundamentals of a particular field of knowledge musically illiterate
3a : violating approved patterns of speaking or writing
b : showing or marked by a lack of familiarity with language and literature an illiterate magazine

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Other Words from illiterate

illiterate noun
illiterately adverb
illiterateness noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for illiterate



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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web After giving birth, she was sterilized; consent was given by her grandmother, who was illiterate. Melissa Gira Grant, The New Republic, "ICE Is the New Face of America’s Legacy of Forced Sterilization," 17 Sep. 2020 The country is also home to about half a billion people who are illiterate or have low literacy, limiting their ability to navigate web pages and apps whose information is presented in text. Nicolás Rivero, Quartz, "Millions of Indians are getting connected to an internet they can’t use," 10 Sep. 2020 In a town where Republicans seem to be rendered illiterate or are all suddenly late for lunch anytime the leader of their party says something racist or otherwise unhinged, calling out Trump is something of a novel approach. Ben Terris, Washington Post, "The Burden of Tim Scott," 21 Aug. 2020 For the most part, women in 17th-century Spain were illiterate and relegated largely to domestic tasks. Theresa Machemer, Smithsonian Magazine, "Remembering the Forgotten Women Writers of 17th-Century Spain," 4 Sep. 2020 Poll taxes and literacy tests kept black voters out of the polls, while grandfather clauses enabled poor and illiterate white voters to skirt these requirements. Theresa Machemer, Smithsonian Magazine, "How the National Park Foundation Is Highlighting Women’s History," 28 Aug. 2020 Before any heartbeat bill is to take effect, that constitutionally illiterate and evil ruling must be tossed into the dustbin of history. Isaac Schorr, National Review, "How Pro-Lifers Should See Political Power," 27 Aug. 2020 One of Stitely’s attorneys, Joel Levine, said his client was illiterate and had been raised by an abusive father, and two psychiatrists had measured his IQ at below 70. Jason Fagone,, "California executions on hold, but coronavirus killing San Quentin inmates," 10 Aug. 2020 One in four eighth-graders is functionally illiterate, and that number rises to half when looking only at low-income students. Betsy Devos, The Denver Post, "Guest Commentary: Federal tax credits would expand school choice funding," 30 Jan. 2020

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.

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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

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Time Traveler for illiterate

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for illiterate

Last Updated

24 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Illiterate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Sep. 2020.

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More Definitions for illiterate


How to pronounce illiterate (audio)

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


il·​lit·​er·​ate | \ i-ˈli-tə-rət How to pronounce illiterate (audio) \

Kids Definition of illiterate

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: unable to read or write



Kids Definition of illiterate (Entry 2 of 2)

: a person who is unable to read or write

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