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

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Synonyms & Antonyms for theoretical


abstract, conceptual, ideal, metaphysical, notional


concrete, nonabstract

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web

This question about presidential indictment is not purely theoretical. Carolyn Shapiro, Fortune, "Brett Kavanaugh Said Judges Should Just Follow the Law. Here’s Why That’s Bull," 10 July 2018 The two biggest problems with three Californias are practical, not theoretical. Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, "Californians to Vote on Initiative to Divide Their State Into 3," 13 June 2018 For students across the country, dying in a school shooting is not theoretical., "Students Want You To Know What'll Happen If They Die In A School Shooting," 22 May 2018 Philip Hopkins, a theoretical astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, likes to prank his colleagues. Adrian Cho, Science | AAAS, "Galaxy simulations are at last matching reality—and producing surprising insights into cosmic evolution," 30 May 2018 Priyamvada Natarajan, a theoretical astrophysicist at Yale University, told NBC. Alex Horton, Washington Post, "Scientists may have discovered the first planets outside the Milky Way," 6 Feb. 2018 This sounds like the plot to a Christopher Nolan movie or perhaps something that a theoretical physicist could try to explain. Pete Grathoff, kansascity, "These are the 'Turn Ahead The Clock' uniforms the Royals will wear Saturday," 29 June 2018 In 2017, the world renowned theoretical physicist was offered a free ride to space by Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson. NBC News, "'Black, queer, disabled and brilliant': Activist hopes to make history in space," 26 June 2018 That is because solving theoretical problems can have real-life applications for the business years down the road, such as creating new sustainable-energy solutions and improving electric propulsion for aviation systems, according to Siemens. Lauren Weber, WSJ, "Now Fighting for Top Tech Talent: Makers of Turbines, Tools and Toyotas," 31 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.

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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

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Last Updated

4 Aug 2018

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Time Traveler for theoretical

The first known use of theoretical was in 1601

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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

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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).


to deposit or conceal in a hiding place

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