liberal arts

plural noun

: college or university studies (such as language, philosophy, literature, and 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
: the medieval studies comprising the trivium and quadrivium

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Why do we call the liberal arts "liberal"?

The liberal in liberal arts is not political. 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 members of the upper classes as well as to those with the full rights of a citizen; this education involved training in such subjects as grammar, logic, geometry, etc., as opposed to the education reserved for the lower classes, which involved mechanical or occupational skills. 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 Last month, BlackRock’s COO told a Fortune panelist that the firm was emphasizing candidates with backgrounds in the liberal arts in its recruiting, not just traditional finance and business graduates. Sasha Rogelberg, Fortune, 2 June 2024 On the very same day, these student athletes will proudly don uniforms branded in the 168-year-old liberal arts school’s colors and attempt to complete their true Cinderella season with a national championship. Rebecca Angel Baer, Southern Living, 29 May 2024 Taylor was pursuing a liberal arts major and was already enrolled for the fall semester, the school said. Nathan Pilling, Kansas City Star, 24 May 2024 His speech at the Catholic private liberal arts school in Atchison, Kansas, went viral, and while many people online condemned his words, his jersey became one of the top-selling after the graduation. Caitlin O'Kane, CBS News, 23 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for liberal arts 

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

Word History

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2

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

Dictionary Entries Near liberal arts

Cite this Entry

“Liberal arts.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition

liberal arts

plural noun
: the studies (as literature, philosophy, languages, or history) in a college or university intended to develop the mind in a general way rather than give professional or vocational skills

More from Merriam-Webster on liberal arts

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