illiterate

adjective
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

Synonyms

Antonyms

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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 During our conversation in Jaipur, Murugan told me that his father was an illiterate farmer who also ran a soda shop. Amitava Kumar, The New Yorker, "How Perumal Murugan Was Resurrected Through Writing," 12 Dec. 2019 Vuong’s parents were illiterate rice farmers, who left Vietnam when Vuong was a baby, first spending a year in a refugee camp in the Philippines, then moving to the Hartford area when Vuong was 2 years old. Susan Dunne, courant.com, "Glastonbury poet Ocean Vuong and Manchester philosopher Elizabeth Anderson win 2019 MacArthur ‘genius grants’," 25 Sep. 2019 There was almost no Western medicine available in the 1960s, and most of the population was illiterate; as many as half of all babies and a third of mothers died in childbirth. New York Times, "Mohammed bin Zayed’s Dark Vision of the Middle East’s Future," 9 Jan. 2020 Two thirds of adults globally are financially illiterate, according to Standard & Poor's Global Financial Literacy Survey, and one in four teenagers are unable to make even simple decisions on everyday spending. Nell Lewis, CNN, "Forget piggy banks. Kids are using mobile apps for pocket money," 16 Dec. 2019 His mother is illiterate, and his father, who worked in construction, has a primary-school education. Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker, "Hong Kong’s Protest Movement and the Fight for the City’s Soul," 9 Dec. 2019 Stanton’s daughter would read newspapers aloud to Truth, who was illiterate. Susan Haigh And Joseph Frederick, courant.com, "There are no Central Park statues honoring real-life women. A Ridgefield artist is going to change that.," 21 Nov. 2019 Smug assumptions cannot be made about universal literacy: the Department of Education estimates there are 32 million adults in the U.S. who are illiterate. Gary Stix, Scientific American, "Literacy Might Shield the Brain from Dementia," 13 Nov. 2019 Liberalism faced a new test among a great majority of the world’s population: Could newly sovereign peoples, largely poor and illiterate, embrace free markets and minimize government right away? Pankaj Mishra, The New Yorker, "Liberalism According to The Economist," 4 Nov. 2019

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

13 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Illiterate.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/illiterateness. Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for illiterate

illiterate

adjective
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

illiterate

adjective
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

illiterate

noun

Kids Definition of illiterate (Entry 2 of 2)

: a person who is unable to read or write

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