sym·​bol·​ic | \ sim-ˈbä-lik How to pronounce symbolic (audio) \
variants: or less commonly symbolical \ sim-​ˈbä-​li-​kəl How to pronounce symbolical (audio) \

Definition of symbolic

1a : using, employing, or exhibiting a symbol
b : consisting of or proceeding by means of symbols
2 : of, relating to, or constituting a symbol
3 : characterized by or terminating in symbols symbolic thinking
4 : characterized by symbolism a symbolic dance

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Other Words from symbolic

symbolically \ sim-​ˈbä-​li-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce symbolically (audio) \ adverb

Synonyms & Antonyms for symbolic


emblematic (also emblematical), representational, representative



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Examples of symbolic in a Sentence

The lighting of the candles is symbolic. The sharing of the wine has symbolic meaning.

Recent Examples on the Web

Through symbolic and direct actions, SustainUS brings youth to international negotiations to dismantle the political elite’s narrative and demand stronger, urgent action. Maia Wikler, Teen Vogue, "5 Youth-Led Climate Justice Groups Helping to Save the Environment," 28 Mar. 2019 But there was nothing really sacred, particularly controversial, or controversially symbolic about it in the context that it was purchased. Connie Wang,, "I’ve Written About Cultural Appropriation For 10 Years. Here’s What I Got Wrong.," 24 May 2018 By contrast, George’s humans tend to be scenic elements; children are usually asleep or dead, therefore symbolic and undisruptive. Daisy Fried, New York Times, "Sex, Death, Suffering and Surrealism, in New Books of Poetry," 6 July 2018 And then today also symbolic because 10 percent of tariffs worth of $200 billion on Chinese goods went into effect today. Fox News, "Daines slams Dems' 'desperation tactics' against Kavanaugh," 24 Sep. 2018 These fleeing trillions undermine national communities in real and symbolic ways. Aaron Gilbreath, Longreads, "Welcome to the New Transnational Paradigm," 12 Apr. 2018 For us, the move to the Warehouse District is both pragmatic and symbolic. Tim Williamson,, "NOLA Media Group is relocating to the Warehouse District this week," 8 Apr. 2018 The difference is chump change to James, but symbolic. Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle, "NBA’s annual playground game given a little more motivation," 18 Feb. 2018 Photo: John Bazemore/Associated Press Placed side by side, the Rams’ Mr. McVay and the Explorer’s Mr. Wiman may seem like symbolic twins: unseasoned leaders who flew too close to the sun. Sam Walker, WSJ, "The Truth About Failing Spectacularly," 16 Feb. 2019

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

1610, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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Statistics for symbolic

Last Updated

8 Apr 2019

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Time Traveler for symbolic

The first known use of symbolic was in 1610

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More Definitions for symbolic



English Language Learners Definition of symbolic

: expressing or representing an idea or quality without using words
: relating to or being used as a symbol
: using symbols


sym·​bol·​ic | \ sim-ˈbä-lik How to pronounce symbolic (audio) \
variants: also symbolical \ -​li-​kəl \

Kids Definition of symbolic

: of, relating to, or using symbols or symbolism Lighting the candles has a symbolic meaning.

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More from Merriam-Webster on symbolic

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with symbolic

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for symbolic

Spanish Central: Translation of symbolic

Nglish: Translation of symbolic for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of symbolic for Arabic Speakers

Comments on symbolic

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


an act or instance of returning to life

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