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

Chief Executive Mark Okerstrom received a certificate of liberal arts from Simon Fraser University. WSJ, "Corrections & Amplifications," 26 Nov. 2018 The focus on such degrees has concerned some liberal arts educators. Eric Stirgus, ajc, "Emory to ramp up liberal arts education," 23 May 2018 Together, the classes highlight the dance program’s focus on providing professional technical training, choreographic inquiry, performance and historical studies of dance within a liberal arts college environment. Nicole Miller-coleman,, "Students take the stage at SJC Faculty Dance Concert this weekend," 5 May 2018 The proposal initially faced opposition from some at the university, who saw it as a distraction from Yale’s core liberal arts mission. Ben Casselman, New York Times, "William Beinecke, Patron of Central Park and Yale, Dies at 103," 13 Apr. 2018 The liberal arts are neither liberal nor narrowly about the arts., "Boston is the nation’s college capital. Here’s how to keep it that way," 3 Apr. 2018 The Liberal Arts Scholarship funds liberal arts degrees and the Transition Scholarship assists those pursuing associate degrees or technical programs. Jennie Key,, "$400,000 scholarship gift helps UC Blue Ash celebrate 50th birthday," 8 Feb. 2018 Landing a job in today’s leading industries requires access to in-demand skills – whether advanced training in a science, technology, engineering, or math discipline or the critical thinking and clear communication embodied in a liberal arts degree., "Should Massachusetts drop tuition and fees for in-state students at its public colleges and universities?," 22 June 2018 That Reed would agree to this, and especially under political pressure, is an insult to the meaning of a liberal arts degree. 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

Share liberal arts

Statistics for liberal arts

Last Updated

2 Dec 2018

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


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

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).


a nest or breeding place

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

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


Love words? Need even more definitions?

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