the·​o·​ret·​i·​cal | \ˌthē-ə-ˈre-ti-kəl, ˌthir-ˈe-ti-kəl\
variants: or less commonly theoretic \ˌthē-​ə-​ˈre-​tik, ˌthir-​ˈe-​tik \

Definition of theoretical 

1 : existing only in theory : hypothetical gave as an example a theoretical situation

2a : relating to or having the character of theory : abstract

b : confined to theory or speculation often in contrast to practical applications : speculative theoretical physics

3 : given to or skilled in theorizing a brilliant theoretical physicist

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms & Antonyms for theoretical


academic (also academical), conjectural, hypothetical, speculative, suppositional


actual, factual, real

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of theoretical in a Sentence

On a theoretical level, hiring more people seems logical. The idea is purely theoretical at this point. The danger is more than just a theoretical possibility.
See More

Recent Examples on the Web

Physicists from the University of Twente in the Netherlands decided to analyze the underlying physics more thoroughly in a series of rigorous experiments and develop a theoretical model. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, "Physics holds the key to performing the flipping water bottle trick," 8 Oct. 2018 Although the process has been studied in theoretical models and computer simulations, this destruction of a star has rarely been recorded. Dennis Overbye, New York Times, "Black Hole Drags Star to Dusty Death," 14 June 2018 In recent years, scientists have developed several theoretical models that attempt to describe epochs that preceded the Big Bang. Dan Falk /, NBC News, "What is the Big Bang theory?," 9 June 2018 Under the theoretical models that the two companies have constructed, Burke explained, those cells would be mounted on light poles, or on the roofs or sides of buildings. Mark Hachman, PCWorld, "Facebook's Terragraph hopes to replace fiber broadband beginning with 2019 trials," 21 May 2018 While scientists have always had theoretical models of the Sun's magnetic field, measuring it directly could be a game changer in terms of predicting solar activity, something the federal government is already trying to figure out. Matt Blitz, Popular Mechanics, "An Illuminating Darkness: What Scientists Hope To Learn From This Month's Solar Eclipse," 2 Aug. 2017 Braking is more theoretical than actual; pressing the pedal just works bands in the transmission. Casey Williams,, "Driving the Ford Model T through 110 years of American audacity," 3 July 2018 Of course, this grand scheme is just theoretical if the Delos Corporation can’t secure all that data, which remains locked in the control unit of Peter Abernathy. Scott Meslow, GQ, "Westworld Season 2 Episode 7 Recap: The Coward Dr. Ford," 4 June 2018 While Roseanne's future is entirely theoretical, ABC must contend with an immediate, real-world loss. Andrea Mandell, USA TODAY, "What happens to 'Roseanne'? Racist tweet likely Barrs revival elsewhere, even without her," 30 May 2018

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

See More

First Known Use of theoretical

1601, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

History and Etymology for theoretical

Late Latin theoreticus, from Greek theōrētikos, from theōrein to look at

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about theoretical

Share theoretical

Statistics for theoretical

Last Updated

24 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for theoretical

The first known use of theoretical was in 1601

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for theoretical



English Language Learners Definition of theoretical

: relating to what is possible or imagined rather than to what is known to be true or real

: relating to the general principles or ideas of a subject rather than the practical uses of those ideas

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on theoretical

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


a soft lustrous wool fabric with mohair

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Late Autumn 2018 Words of the Day Quiz

  • frosted-autumn-leaves
  • Which is a synonym of yahoo?
True or False

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


Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

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