il·​lus·​tri·​ous i-ˈlə-strē-əs How to pronounce illustrious (audio)
: notably or brilliantly outstanding because of dignity or achievements or actions : eminent
: shining brightly with light
: clearly evident
illustriously adverb
illustriousness noun

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Today’s spotlight is on illustrious, from the Latin adjective illustris, meaning "shining brightly with light." Illustris itself was probably a back-formation of the Latin verb illustrare, a word with varied meanings, among them "to light up," "to make clear," and "to embellish." (Our word illustrate also comes from illustrare, of course; its original meaning was "to enlighten intellectually, culturally, or spiritually.") At one time, illustrious could be used synonymously with its immediate Latin forbear to describe things that glow brightly, but that meaning is now considered archaic. The word today is almost exclusively used to describe something—such as a career or achievement—that stands out figuratively, shining brilliantly in the mind's eye.

Choose the Right Synonym for illustrious

famous, renowned, celebrated, noted, notorious, distinguished, eminent, illustrious mean known far and wide.

famous implies little more than the fact of being, sometimes briefly, widely and popularly known.

a famous actress

renowned implies more glory and acclamation.

one of the most renowned figures in sports history

celebrated implies notice and attention especially in print.

the most celebrated beauty of her day

noted suggests well-deserved public attention.

the noted mystery writer

notorious frequently adds to famous an implication of questionableness or evil.

a notorious gangster

distinguished implies acknowledged excellence or superiority.

a distinguished scientist who won the Nobel Prize

eminent implies even greater prominence for outstanding quality or character.

the country's most eminent writers

illustrious stresses enduring honor and glory attached to a deed or person.

illustrious war heroes

Examples of illustrious in a Sentence

He has had an illustrious military career. an illustrious physicist who is a sure bet for a Nobel Prize
Recent Examples on the Web The Fall Guy David Leitch’s action-comedy mystery romance set in the world of stunt professionals is an act of pure movie love, mixing and matching genres while tossing off in-jokes and references to its illustrious (and not-so-illustrious) forebears. Alison Willmore, Vulture, 4 June 2024 Close has an illustrious career spanning five decades on the stage and screen, including Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Real Thing, just to name a few. Kelsie Gibson, Peoplemag, 4 June 2024 Magneto, one of the most infamous villains in all of Marvel's illustrious catalog, will be part of Fortnite Chapter 5 Season 3's skins. Laura Daniella Sepulveda, The Arizona Republic, 24 May 2024 The Silver Knight Awards have a long and illustrious history in South Florida with an impressive alumni list. Clara-Sophia Daly, Miami Herald, 23 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for illustrious 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'illustrious.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Latin illustris, probably from illustrare

First Known Use

1588, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of illustrious was in 1588


Dictionary Entries Near illustrious

Cite this Entry

“Illustrious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition


il·​lus·​tri·​ous il-ˈəs-trē-əs How to pronounce illustrious (audio)
: very outstanding : eminent
illustriously adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on illustrious

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