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

Keep scrolling for more

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

He is fully committed to the liberal arts and to Goucher’s role in educating our next generation. Liz Bowie, baltimoresun.com, "Goucher College names Kent Devereaux its new president as school deals with changing landscape for higher ed," 13 June 2019 The bakery sued the liberal arts college and Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo after a robbery at the bakery. Emily Bamforth, cleveland.com, "Gibson’s Bakery awarded more than $11 million in years-long legal battle with Oberlin College," 7 June 2019 The American education system is exceptional for tracking late, where even at the university level students take some form of liberal arts and many don’t identify a major until their junior year. Allison Schrager, Quartz, "How young is too young to begin preparing for a career?," 6 June 2019 The thought has crossed Marty Walsh’s mind as the mayor watches the only public liberal arts university in Boston twist in the wind. Shirley Leung, BostonGlobe.com, "Should Boston run UMass Boston? Walsh thinks it’s an idea worth discussing," 2 May 2018 The private, liberal arts university's main campus is in Parkville, Missouri, with 43 campus centers around the country, including at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. Ryan Santistevan, azcentral, "Gilbert may have new university for empty Saint Xavier building," 4 Apr. 2018 Lexington is home to Washington and Lee University, a private liberal arts school. Jessica Mendoza, The Christian Science Monitor, "In Red Hen aftermath, a community wades through nation's vitriol," 29 June 2018 Lake Forest College is a liberal arts school, so there is a lot of interaction and daily contact and conversations with students. Daniel I. Dorfman, chicagotribune.com, "Shout Out: Muris Hadzic, assistant professor at Lake Forest College," 20 June 2018 For more than 70 years the 1,500-student private liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon, has required every freshman to take a yearlong course covering the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman canon (Humanities 110). The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Reed College Bows to the Bullies," 19 Apr. 2018

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.

See More

First Known Use of liberal arts

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about liberal arts

Statistics for liberal arts

Last Updated

17 Jun 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for liberal arts

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for liberal arts

liberal arts

noun

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

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about liberal arts

Comments on liberal arts

What made you want to look up liberal arts? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

a device or gadget

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words for Summer: A Quiz

  • a closeup of a sunflower
  • Which of the following words means “of or relating to summer”?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!