liberal arts

plural noun

Definition of liberal arts

1 : the medieval studies comprising the trivium and quadrivium
2 : college or university studies (such as language, philosophy, literature, abstract science) intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop general intellectual capacities (such as reason and judgment) as opposed to professional or vocational skills

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Why do we call the liberal arts "liberal"?

The liberal in liberal arts, a cornerstone of the education of so many, has very little to do with political leanings; its roots can be traced to the Latin word liber, meaning “free, unrestricted.” Our language took the term from the Latin liberales artes, which described the education given to freeman and members of the upper classes, and involved training in the mind (grammar, logic, geometry, etc.). The lower classes were educated in the servile arts, which were mechanical or occupational in nature. The phrase liberal arts has been part of our language for a very long time, with use dating back to the 14th century.

Examples of liberal arts in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Students pursuing the nursing bachelor's degree at Loyola will study core liberal arts courses with a pre-nursing focus for one year, and nursing science exclusively starting the second year, officials said. Della Hasselle | Staff Writer,, "Loyola University, Ochsner Health will team up on new nursing program to fill acute shortage," 21 Oct. 2020 Mills College, a private liberal arts school in Oakland, California, placed the text up for sale to help cover budget shortfalls, reported Sam Lefebvre for local news outlet KQED in December 2019. Isis Davis-marks, Smithsonian Magazine, "Shakespeare’s First Folio Is the Most Expensive Work of Literature Ever Auctioned," 16 Oct. 2020 No more than two years focus on liberal arts curriculums, Associates degrees, and certificates. Anchorage Daily News, "Candidate Q&A: Alaska House District 16 — Paul Bauer," 3 Oct. 2020 Located about 96 miles northwest of Chicago, Beloit is a private liberal arts school with an enrollment of 1,212. NBC News, "Wisconsin's Beloit College let students take lead on keeping their campus safe from Covid-19," 23 Sep. 2020 The liberal arts school, founded decades before the Civil War battle that the town is forever identified with, had expanded student housing, consulted with public health experts and arranged for viral testing. Washington Post, "The fall opening of colleges: Upheaval, pandemic weirdness and a fragile stability," 20 Sep. 2020 In April 2015, Emile Weaver gave birth alone in the bathroom of her sorority house at a small liberal arts university in Ohio. Longreads, "The Top 5 Longreads of the Week," 10 Aug. 2020 Barrett attended an all-girls Catholic school in New Orleans before studying English and French at a liberal arts college in Memphis. Rick Pearson,, "President Trump selects Chicago federal appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Supreme Court, sources say," 25 Sep. 2020 Like most similarly sized institutions, the small, liberal arts college is especially susceptible to enrollment declines. Bill Glauber, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Diane Hendricks, three others resign from Beloit College Board of Trustees," 24 Sep. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'liberal arts.' 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 liberal arts

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for liberal arts

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The first known use of liberal arts was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

28 Oct 2020

Cite this Entry

“Liberal arts.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Oct. 2020.

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More Definitions for liberal arts

liberal arts


English Language Learners Definition of liberal arts

: areas of study (such as history, language, and literature) that are intended to give you general knowledge rather than to develop specific skills needed for a profession

More from Merriam-Webster on liberal arts

Nglish: Translation of liberal arts for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about liberal arts

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