lib·​er·​al | \ ˈli-b(ə-)rəl How to pronounce liberal (audio) \

Definition of liberal

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : of, relating to, or based on the liberal arts liberal education
b archaic : of or befitting a man of free birth
2a : marked by generosity : openhanded a liberal giver
b : given or provided in a generous and openhanded way a liberal meal
c : ample, full
3 obsolete : lacking moral restraint : licentious
4 : not literal or strict : loose a liberal translation
5 : broad-minded especially : not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms
6a : of, favoring, or based upon the principles of liberalism
b capitalized : of or constituting a political party advocating or associated with the principles of political liberalism especially : of or constituting a political party in the United Kingdom associated with ideals of individual especially economic freedom, greater individual participation in government, and constitutional, political, and administrative reforms designed to secure these objectives


lib·​er·​al | \ ˈli-b(ə-)rəl How to pronounce liberal (audio) \

Definition of liberal (Entry 2 of 2)

: a person who is liberal: such as
a : one who is open-minded or not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional, or established forms or ways
b capitalized : a member or supporter of a liberal political party (see liberal entry 1 sense 6)
c : an advocate or adherent of liberalism especially in individual rights

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Other Words from liberal


liberally \ ˈli-​b(ə-​)rə-​lē How to pronounce liberal (audio) \ adverb
liberalness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for liberal


liberal, generous, bountiful, munificent mean giving or given freely and unstintingly. liberal suggests openhandedness in the giver and largeness in the thing or amount given. a teacher liberal with her praise generous stresses warmhearted readiness to give more than size or importance of the gift. a generous offer of help bountiful suggests lavish, unremitting giving or providing. children spoiled by bountiful presents munificent suggests a scale of giving appropriate to lords or princes. a munificent foundation grant

Examples of liberal in a Sentence

Adjective On most issues he was thought of as a generally liberal figure, but on gun control he was live-free-or-die National Rifle Association man. — Jonathan Raban, Harper's, Aug. 1993 Many fishermen keep their holes from freezing over with liberal injections of antifreeze. Time, 28 Feb. 1974 Alexandra looked at him mournfully. "I try to be more liberal about such things than I used to be. I try to realize that we are not all made alike … " — Willa Cather, O Pioneers!, 1913 This cost him considerable, for Dick was rather fastidious about his cigars, and wouldn't smoke the cheapest. Besides, having a liberal nature, he was generally ready to treat his companions. — Horatio Alger, Ragged Dick, 1868 She is a liberal Democrat who married a conservative Republican. He made a very liberal donation to the museum. Noun a policy that is supported both by liberals and conservatives in Congress
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective In a similar June 2020 Supreme Court case, the bench's liberal justices plus Roberts sided against a church called Calvary Chapel. Fox News, "Ken Starr's new book warns religious liberty in crisis: 'We have huge problems'," 24 Apr. 2021 The White House sounded an uncertain trumpet on packing the Supreme Court with new liberal justices and getting rid of the Senate filibuster. W. James Antle Iii, Washington Examiner, "Biden's showdown with the Left is coming," 19 Apr. 2021 At 82, Breyer—one of only three liberal justices on the Court—is the oldest justice on the bench. Jack Brewster, Forbes, "Progressives Want Breyer To Retire—But Supreme Court Justices Are Sticking Around Longer Than Ever," 15 Apr. 2021 Lawmakers ended the session by advancing a string of liberal priorities that include protections for immigrants, removing the governor from parole decisions, and planting 5 million trees over the next decade. Washington Post, "Md. bills honoring Raskin’s late son and expanding broadband are signed into law," 13 Apr. 2021 The case is the latest in which Hagedorn agreed with the liberal justices. Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "In 5-2 ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court keeps thousands of voters on the rolls," 9 Apr. 2021 Activists who say a larger court would give Mr. Biden the chance to appoint a number of liberal justices may be disappointed by his commission. New York Times, "Biden Creating Commission to Study Expanding the Supreme Court," 9 Apr. 2021 On the other side, while conservatives expressed some of the most vehement criticism of the NCAA, liberal justices seemed surprisingly hesitant to rock the amateurism boat. Los Angeles Times, "Commentary: Conservative justices dunk on NCAA amateurism rules, but they still might protect them," 1 Apr. 2021 In an unsigned opinion, which drew a dissent from three liberal justices, the majority held the case was premature. John Fritze, USA TODAY, "Immigration was a scorching topic at the Supreme Court last year. With Trump gone, that's changed.," 12 Mar. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Even with the increase, the Mississippi welfare payments will still be only a fraction of the federal poverty level, according to the liberal-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Emily Wagster Pettus, Star Tribune, "Mississippi welfare payments increasing 3 months early," 30 Apr. 2021 The liberal-leaning Brookings Institution estimates that eliminating the SALT cap would give members of the top 0.1 percent an average tax cut of nearly $145,000. Brad Polumbo, National Review, "Chuck Schumer’s Tax Bailout for Rich Liberals," 6 Apr. 2021 During Barack Obama's presidency, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg faced some pressure to step down so that Obama could name a younger liberal to sit on the court. Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN, "Democratic congressman calls on Justice Stephen Breyer to retire," 16 Apr. 2021 The lifelong Republican has described herself as an economic conservative and social liberal, and has also said she has been criticized for her GOP affiliation. al, "Caitlyn Jenner reportedly considering run for California governor," 9 Apr. 2021 Owens and conservative super PACs sought to label McAdams as an out-of-touch liberal in Utah’s 4th Congressional District. Matt Canham, The Salt Lake Tribune, "Utah’s Ben McAdams joins group promising to combat Republican ‘lies’," 5 Apr. 2021 The child of a grocer from southern Italy, Mario was the modest liberal who believed in the healing power of good government, who gave the Democratic Party an intellectual and emotional heft to counter Reaganism. Dan Zak, Washington Post, "The father, the son and the holy Cuomo mess," 17 Mar. 2021 Again, there’s some backing for the judge’s appraisal: As this blog noted in 2017, studies have shown that mainstream media newsrooms are staffed by folks who skew liberal. Washington Post, "Opinion: Fox News would be in trouble without ‘actual malice’ standard," 23 Mar. 2021 Free speech was a cause no liberal could in good conscience resist. Louis Menand, The New Yorker, "The Making of the New Left," 15 Mar. 2021

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


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a


1814, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for liberal

Adjective and Noun

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin liberalis suitable for a freeman, generous, from liber free; perhaps akin to Old English lēodan to grow, Greek eleutheros free

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Time Traveler for liberal

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for liberal

Last Updated

3 May 2021

Cite this Entry

“Liberal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for liberal



English Language Learners Definition of liberal

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: believing that government should be active in supporting social and political change : relating to or supporting political liberalism
British : of or belonging to the liberal political party in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom
: not opposed to new ideas or ways of behaving that are not traditional or widely accepted



English Language Learners Definition of liberal (Entry 2 of 2)

: a person who believes that government should be active in supporting social and political change : a person who is politically liberal
British : a member or supporter of a liberal political party in countries like the United Kingdom and Canada


lib·​er·​al | \ ˈli-bə-rəl How to pronounce liberal (audio) , ˈli-brəl \

Kids Definition of liberal

1 : not stingy : generous She made a liberal donation.
2 : not strict That's a liberal interpretation of the rule.
3 : broad sense 4 I got a liberal education.

Other Words from liberal

liberally adverb

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