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 Fought said Douglass' white contemporaries in particular judged her harshly for being illiterate and not being a part of the abolitionist movement in the same way her husband was. N'dea Yancey-bragg, USA TODAY, "Frederick Douglass escaped slavery and became a famed abolitionist. His first wife made that possible," 7 July 2020 Modest efforts to resurrect Indigenous languages had been going on for several decades when the dictionary appeared, but the Tzotzil language and its cousins were primarily oral traditions; speakers of such languages were illiterate in them. Neil Genzlinger,, "Robert Laughlin, preserver of a Mayan language, 85," 26 June 2020 Nearly 40 percent of Haitians are illiterate, and only 25 percent have regular access to electricity. Peter Turnley, National Geographic, "See the Full Archive," 1 May 2020 Currently 45 million Americans are functionally illiterate and cannot read above a fifth-grade level, according to the Literacy Project Foundation. Alisha Ebrahimji And Stephanie Becker, CNN, "Students and teachers said California didn't have a plan to teach kids to read. Now, the state has to pay $53 million," 21 Feb. 2020 Bree quickly realizes Bonnet might be illiterate and offers to do the reading herself. Maureen Lee Lenker,, "Outlander recap: For who could ever learn to love a beast...," 27 Apr. 2020 For each app in the competition, XPRIZE tested a group of low-literate, or functionally illiterate, adults at the start and end of a 1-year period of that group using the app. Jordan Wilkerson, Dallas News, "SMU gaming app aims to teach millions of U.S. adults who can't read," 1 Aug. 2019 Drastic overfishing three decades ago saw the cod industry evaporate, prompting another resident, Zita Cobb, born the sixth of seven children to an illiterate fisherman, to seek a creative way to invigorate their economy. Juliet Kinsman, Condé Nast Traveler, "Canada's Fogo Island Inn Is a Champion of All Things Local," 3 Apr. 2020 An illiterate patient with diabetes or hypertension is not aware of heÕs own situation, even less something like Covid. Washington Post, "Love and loneliness in the time of the coronavirus," 2 Apr. 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

14 Jul 2020

Cite this Entry

“Illiterate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 15 Jul. 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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