pre·​lit·​er·​ate ˌprē-ˈli-t(ə-)rət How to pronounce preliterate (audio)
: not yet employing writing as a cultural medium
: lacking the use of writing
: antedating the use of writing
preliterate noun

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web The sheer variety of precious objects alerts 21st-century visitors to the ingenuity that kept our preliterate ancestors at the top of the planet's food chain. Jack Schnedler, Arkansas Online, 2 Nov. 2021 The likelihood of preliterate peoples first inventing tales that then somehow corresponded closely to later fossil finds seems like a stunning coincidence. Timothy John Burbery, The Conversation, 6 Aug. 2021 The enormous number of dog burials unearthed from the period between 14,000 and 4,000 years ago indicates the esteem preliterate societies had for dogs. Longreads, 22 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'preliterate.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

First Known Use

1925, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of preliterate was in 1925

Dictionary Entries Near preliterate

Cite this Entry

“Preliterate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



pre·​lit·​er·​ate (ˈ)prē-ˈlit-ə-rət How to pronounce preliterate (audio)
: existing before or lacking the use of writing
preliterate societies
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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

Commonly Confused Words Quiz

  • vector image of a face with thought expression
  • I went to the ______ store to buy a birthday card.
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.