sur·​re·​al | \ sə-ˈrē(-ə)l also -ˈrā-əl How to pronounce surreal (audio) \

Definition of surreal

1 : marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream also : unbelievable, fantastic surreal sums of money

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Other Words from surreal

surreality \ (ˌ)sə-​rē-​ˈa-​lə-​tē How to pronounce surreality (audio) \ noun
surreally adverb

Did You Know?

In 1924 a group of European poets, painters, and filmmakers founded a movement that they called Surrealism. Their central idea was that the unconscious mind (a concept Sigmund Freud had recently made famous) was the source of all imagination, and that art should try to express its contents. The unconscious, they believed, revealed itself most clearly in dreams. The Surrealist painters included René Magritte, Joan Miró, and Salvador Dalí, whose "limp watches" painting became the best-known Surrealist image of all. Since those years, we've used surreal to describe all kinds of situations that strike us as dreamlike. And even though the Surrealist movement ended long ago, surrealism now seems to be everywhere—not just in painting, literature, and movies but also in blogs, video games, and graphic novels.

Examples of surreal in a Sentence

Despite all the hassle, though, I would not want an ordinary name. I know of one other person in the world who shares my name, first and last. I know nothing about her except that she lived in New York at the same time I did, and that she and I subscribed to a few of the same publications. I found myself in the surreal position of having to explain to circulation departments that I was, in fact, me, and not that other version of me on the West Side. — Johnna Kaplan, Newsweek, 3 Mar. 2008 Films aren't just a part of life for people in India; they are a way of life. The over-the-top, surreal dance numbers in nearly every Bollywood film often make no sense in relation to the story, but no one seems to be complaining. — Shashank Samant, The Out Traveler, May/June 2005 The movie achieves a truly rare mix of the absurd, the surreal, and the heartfelt. Improbably, its wacked-out premise and structural hilarity concoct a melancholy meditation on love, loss, and memory, while delivering a message—subversive to our culture's therapeutic optimism—about the tragedy of healing. — Rand Richards Cooper, Commonweal, 23 Apr. 2004 The whole thing was completely surreal.
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Recent Examples on the Web For non-Brazilians, hearing Bolsonaro speak on the topic must have been a surreal experience (similar, perhaps, to hearing Donald Trump, yesterday in New York, tout himself as a champion of religious freedom). Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, "At the U.N., Jair Bolsonaro Presents a Surreal Defense of His Amazon Policies," 25 Sep. 2019 What would be even more surreal is if Lux can play his way onto the postseason roster, which would certainly be a bonus that would also serve to quiet the critics — including this one — who felt the Dodgers should have acquired Vazquez at all costs. Los Angeles Times, "Column: Gavin Lux lives up to the hype in his opening act with the Dodgers," 2 Sep. 2019 This kind of problem also plagues the mise-en-scene of this mostly soberly told folktale of sorts, which somehow contains some shots that are more surreal. Boyd Van Hoeij, The Hollywood Reporter, "'You Will Die at Twenty' ('Satamoto Fel Eshreen'): Film Review | Venice 2019," 31 Aug. 2019 Though Asian American cinema typically addresses immigration in a realist mode, the actual experience can also be surreal, disjointed, phantasmal. Zoë Hu, The New Republic, "Crazy Sad Asians," 27 Aug. 2019 If someone who rarely meets my gaze seems to suddenly be doing so all the time on a video call, that’s going to make our interaction more surreal, not less. Anna Washenko, Ars Technica, "FaceTime feature in iOS 13 feigns eye contact during video calls," 3 July 2019 Being able to merge the worlds of black-ish and Girlfriends was surreal for me—and so much fun. Kimberly Wilson, Essence, "The ‘Girlfriends’ Cast Is Finally Heading Back To Our TV Screens," 12 Sep. 2019 Being able to merge the worlds of black-ish and Girlfriends was surreal for me — and so much fun. Patrick Gomez,, "The Girlfriends cast reunites on black-ish — and EW has a first look at them back together," 12 Sep. 2019 Seeing the hoodoos covered in a shroud of fresh snow is surreal. National Geographic, "Everything to know about Bryce Canyon National Park," 19 Aug. 2019

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

1937, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for surreal

back-formation from surrealism

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Statistics for surreal

Last Updated

13 Nov 2019

Time Traveler for surreal

The first known use of surreal was in 1937

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More Definitions for surreal


How to pronounce surreal (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of surreal

: very strange or unusual : having the quality of a dream

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More from Merriam-Webster on surreal

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for surreal

Spanish Central: Translation of surreal

Nglish: Translation of surreal for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of surreal for Arabic Speakers

Comments on surreal

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


to engage in dissolute behavior

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