uni·​ver·​sal | \ˌyü-nə-ˈvər-səl \

Definition of universal 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : including or covering all or a whole collectively or distributively without limit or exception especially : available equitably to all members of a society universal health coverage

2a : present or occurring everywhere

b : existent or operative everywhere or under all conditions universal cultural patterns

3a : embracing a major part or the greatest portion (as of humankind) a universal state universal practices

b : comprehensively broad and versatile a universal genius

4a : affirming or denying something of all members of a class or of all values of a variable

b : denoting every member of a class a universal term

5 : adapted or adjustable to meet varied requirements (as of use, shape, or size) a universal gear cutter a universal remote control



Definition of universal (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : one that is universal: such as

a : a universal proposition in logic

b : a predicable of traditional logic

c : a general concept or term or something in reality to which it corresponds : essence

2a : a behavior pattern or institution (such as the family) existing in all cultures

b : a culture trait characteristic of all normal adult members of a particular society

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Other Words from universal


universally \ ˌyü-​nə-​ˈvər-​s(ə-​)lē \ adverb
universalness \ ˌyü-​nə-​ˈvər-​səl-​nəs \ noun

Synonyms & Antonyms for universal

Synonyms: Adjective

across-the-board, blanket, broad-brush, common, general, generic, global, overall

Antonyms: Adjective

individual, particular

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Examples of universal in a Sentence


an idea with universal appeal a pattern that is universal across all cultures

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, pointed to another recent watershed in Massachusetts policy — namely, the push for universal health insurance under then-Governor Mitt Romney. Evan Horowitz, BostonGlobe.com, "Massachusetts was a policy trailblazer. Not anymore.," 4 June 2018 Weinberg also notes that a limited number of insurance carriers issue universal life insurance with secondary guarantees so that if premiums are paid there is no chance of lapsing. Robert Powell, USA TODAY, "Financial planning: How to determine if you need life insurance in retirement," 2 May 2018 During the Bush administration’s dying years, Romney supported universal health insurance and McCain and Newt Gingrich advocated a cap-and-trade program to mitigate climate change. Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, "The GOP’s Never-Trumpers Are Really Just Never-Democrats," 15 Apr. 2018 The Australian health care system offers universal health care insurance, paid through taxes, as well as private insurance. Marian Liu, CNN, "Australia investigates implants that left some women with 'rotting pelvises'," 28 Mar. 2018 All espouse universal health care, protecting public lands and promoting renewable energy. James Anderson, The Seattle Times, "Democratic candidates in close race for governor nomination," 26 June 2018 The 13-year-old was the inaugural patient of the National Health Service (NHS), the world’s first universal health system free at the point of use. The Economist, "Theresa May’s lacklustre plan for the NHS," 21 June 2018 For example, the USAF Ground Systems Development and Operations Program developed a universal propellant servicing system and will construct LC-48 as a multi-use launch complex for small launch vehicles. Joe Pappalardo, Popular Mechanics, "Cape Canaveral, Reinvigorated," 12 June 2018 Like Phoenix, 30-year-old Hill is a political newcomer whose campaign advocated for universal health care, supporting veterans, protecting the environment, and boosting the local economy. Rachel Becker, The Verge, "How a volcano scientist set out to change American politics," 7 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Her platform includes abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), making healthcare universal for all Americans, paid family leave, and more. Rachel Epstein, Marie Claire, "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Just Made History in New York," 27 June 2018 Patriarchal capitalism has arguably had a vested interest in promoting the latter idea as a human universal: as the Marxist psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich pointed out, with women providing free housework and caregiving, capitalists could pay men less. Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker, "Japan’s Rent-a-Family Industry," 23 Apr. 2018 Like any good storyteller, Sean Dorsey has a knack for distilling the universal from the specific. Claudia Bauer, San Francisco Chronicle, "San Francisco’s Sean Dorsey Dance unpacks ‘boy trouble’," 12 Apr. 2018 But values are rooted in emotion and experience as well as reason, in the local as well as the universal. Alison Gopnik, The Atlantic, "When Truth and Reason Are No Longer Enough," 17 Mar. 2018 Though these words, from the pen of Hans Christian Andersen, are an appealing notion, the idea that there might be universals in music which transcend cultural boundaries has generally been met with scepticism by scholars working in the field. The Economist, "EthnomusicologyMusic may be the food of love, but oddly, is not its language," 25 Jan. 2018 Brissett earned universal praised from coaches and teammates after the loss. Zak Keefer, Indianapolis Star, "Colts vs. Browns: 5 things I think," 23 Sep. 2017 The sailor and the nurse were intended as universals, and they are best seen that way. Time, "Celebrating Legendary LIFE Photo Editor John G. Morris," 28 July 2017 That said, this inclusive, open-hearted play, fundamentally and determinedly, traffics in universals. Chris Jones, chicagotribune.com, "Review: A bright, doomed relationship, laid bare in 'Bright Half Life'," 2 June 2017

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


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for universal


Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin universalis, from universum universe

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Last Updated

23 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for universal

The first known use of universal was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for universal



English Language Learners Definition of universal

: done or experienced by everyone : existing or available for everyone

: existing or true at all times or in all places


uni·​ver·​sal | \ˌyü-nə-ˈvər-səl \

Kids Definition of universal

1 : including, covering, or taking in all or everything universal medical care

2 : present or happening everywhere universal celebration

Other Words from universal

universally adverb


uni·​ver·​sal | \ˌyü-nə-ˈvər-səl \

Legal Definition of universal 

1 in the civil law of Louisiana

a : encompassing or burdening all of one's property especially causa mortis granted him a universal usufruct — see also universal legacy at legacy — compare universal title at title

b : of or relating to a universal conveyance or a conveyance under a universal title a universal donee — see also universal successor

2 : not confined by limitations or exceptions : general in application

Other Words from universal

universally adverb

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