sur·​re·​al sə-ˈrē(-ə)l How to pronounce surreal (audio)
 also  -ˈrā-əl
: marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream
also : unbelievable, fantastic
surreal sums of money
surreality 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.
Recent Examples on the Web The setup may seem pedestrian, but in the hands of writer Goscinny and the rough, expressive drawings of Jean Tabary, the gimmick becomes a loopy existential labyrinth with surreal touches that appear to have sprouted from a Jorge Luis Borges short story. Ernesto Lechner, The Hollywood Reporter, 17 Feb. 2024 The film includes different scenes that revisit Lopez’s romantic ups and downs, including her previous three marriages, through a surreal, dreamlike lens. Lucas Villa, Rolling Stone, 16 Feb. 2024 The items on display playfully critique consumer culture while serving as gateways into a labyrinth of surreal art and intricate storytelling. Laura Parker, Forbes, 16 Feb. 2024 Also, surreal ways of visualizing Victorian Europe through the eyes of Bella Baxter, Stone’s pregnant suicide whom a mad scientist reanimates with her infant’s brain. Bob Strauss, Los Angeles Times, 15 Feb. 2024 Pierson, who lived in Cheshire at the time, describes an experience that was equal parts surreal and awkward. Rob Kuznia, CNN, 14 Feb. 2024 The earnestness of his jabs didn’t jibe with the post-satirical age ushered in by Donald Trump’s surreal presidency, in which younger, left-leaning audiences have gravitated toward more caustic humor. David Sims, The Atlantic, 13 Feb. 2024 That dissonance makes things feel even more surreal. Marina Harss, New York Times, 10 Feb. 2024 Overwhelmed with emotion, Moreno described her Grammy-winning experience as surreal. Isabela Raygoza, Billboard, 4 Feb. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'surreal.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


back-formation from surrealism

First Known Use

1937, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of surreal was in 1937

Dictionary Entries Near surreal

Cite this Entry

“Surreal.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2024.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

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