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, ideational, 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

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 But there is a massive gulf between what is theoretical and what is real. Matt Blitz, Popular Mechanics, "We Already Know How To Build a Time Machine," 28 May 2018 Then again, maybe his intention to move is more theoretical than actual. Anna Pulley, RedEye Chicago, "Ask Anna: Is this a summer fling?," 24 July 2017 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

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

29 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for theoretical

The first known use of theoretical was in 1601

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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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a private place of worship

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