imag·​i·​nary i-ˈma-jə-ˌner-ē How to pronounce imaginary (audio)
: existing only in imagination : lacking factual reality
: formed or characterized imaginatively or arbitrarily
his canvases, chiefly imaginary, somber landscapesCurrent Biography
: containing or relating to the imaginary unit
imaginary roots
imaginarily adverb
imaginariness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for imaginary

imaginary, fanciful, visionary, fantastic, chimerical, quixotic mean unreal or unbelievable.

imaginary applies to something which is fictitious and purely the product of one's imagination.

an imaginary desert isle

fanciful suggests the free play of the imagination.

a teller of fanciful stories

visionary stresses impracticality or incapability of realization.

visionary schemes

fantastic implies incredibility or strangeness beyond belief.

a fantastic world inhabited by monsters

chimerical combines the implication of visionary and fantastic.

chimerical dreams of future progress

quixotic implies a devotion to romantic or chivalrous ideals unrestrained by ordinary prudence and common sense.

a quixotic crusade

Examples of imaginary in a Sentence

The two groups were separated by an imaginary line down the middle of the room. an imaginary world of dragons and unicorns
Recent Examples on the Web Holding an imaginary sword, Theo pivoted and stretched out his arm, a move that frankly lacked force. Gia Kourlas Ok McCausland, New York Times, 23 Nov. 2023 Most folks might call this year’s real best picture ‘Barbie,’ a film about an imaginary woman and real-world doll whose agency was plundered by dastardly men. Michael Ordoña, Los Angeles Times, 18 Nov. 2023 The book will feature them on an imaginary fantasy quest to be the fastest race car driver while riding couch cushions and driving grocery carts in the supermarket. Nor'adila Hepburn, Southern Living, 17 Nov. 2023 These titles feature a cursed film strip, high-flying martial arts, thoughtful reflections on climate change and more Save People sometimes say that science fiction basks in optimism for a better future, while fantasy is about nostalgia for an imaginary past. Charlie Jane Anders, Washington Post, 14 Nov. 2023 Chetrit’s photography asks us to reflect on the imaginary worlds that images create. Chris Wiley, The New Yorker, 7 Nov. 2023 What if their imaginary friends are something from the spirit world? Jaden Thompson, Variety, 16 Nov. 2023 Adams had spent her teen years selling her old clothes on eBay and became thrilled by making imaginary money become real. Drew Harwell, Washington Post, 9 Nov. 2023 Mat, Kelsea Ballerini Newman: From Kelsea Ballerini’s intensely personal statement of reclaiming her own life after her divorce to Ashley McBryde’s vivid imaginary community in Lindeville, all the nominees here created works that connected with fans and advanced their artistry. Jessica Nicholson, Billboard, 6 Nov. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Middle English ymaginarie, borrowed from Latin imāginārius "unreal, fictitious (in law)," from imāgin-, imāgō "representation, semblance, image entry 1" + -ārius -ary entry 2

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of imaginary was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near imaginary

Cite this Entry

“Imaginary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


imag·​i·​nary im-ˈaj-ə-ˌner-ē How to pronounce imaginary (audio)
: existing only in imagination : not real
unicorns are imaginary

Medical Definition


imag·​i·​nary im-ˈaj-ə-ˌner-ē How to pronounce imaginary (audio)
: existing only in imagination : lacking factual reality
imaginary fears
an imaginary illness

More from Merriam-Webster on imaginary

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