sym·​bol·​ic | \ sim-ˈbä-lik \
variants: or less commonly symbolical \ sim-​ˈbä-​li-​kəl \

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 \ 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

The patrols, which were routine during the Cold War, are largely symbolic. Kyle Mizokami, Popular Mechanics, "Russia Resumes Fighter Patrols Over the North Pole," 6 Feb. 2019 It was considered an important symbolic victory in the country’s campaign to stamp out Islamic extremism. Ben Otto, WSJ, "Indonesia to Grant Early Release to Radical Islamic Cleric Abu Bakar Bashir," 18 Jan. 2019 Picked off Moscow streets and sent into the lab then the skies, Laika's contribution to space history would be largely symbolic. Nathan Mattise, Ars Technica, "Laika: Forget historic tragedy, this first space dog saves alien planets," 14 Oct. 2018 Ultimately, Trump’s decision to depart from the agreement is largely symbolic on a policy level. Susmita Baral, Teen Vogue, "Trump and the Paris Climate Change Agreement, Explained," 2 Aug. 2018 The vote was symbolic: The nonbinding resolution carries with it no mechanism to make the president stand down. Tory Newmyer, Washington Post, "The Finance 202: Senate rebuke of Trump tariffs won't actually change anything," 12 July 2018 But some archaeologists have begun to challenge the idea that ochre was primarily symbolic for early humans. Gemma Tarlach, Discover Magazine, "Pigment of Our Imagination," 23 Mar. 2018 The government easily won the largely symbolic votes in France's lower house of parliament. Sylvie Corbet, Fox News, "France's Macron survives no-confidence votes amid scandal," 31 July 2018 The government easily won the largely symbolic votes in France’s lower house of parliament. Sylvie Corbet, The Seattle Times, "France’s Macron survives no-confidence votes amid scandal," 31 July 2018

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

11 Feb 2019

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Time Traveler for symbolic

The first known use of symbolic was in 1610

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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 \
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

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