un·​let·​tered ˌən-ˈle-tərd How to pronounce unlettered (audio)
: lacking facility in reading and writing and ignorant of the knowledge to be gained from books
: not marked with letters
Choose the Right Synonym for unlettered

ignorant, illiterate, unlettered, untutored, unlearned mean not having knowledge.

ignorant may imply a general condition or it may apply to lack of knowledge or awareness of a particular thing.

an ignorant fool
ignorant of nuclear physics

illiterate applies to either an absolute or a relative inability to read and write.

much of the population is still illiterate

unlettered implies ignorance of the knowledge gained by reading.

an allusion meaningless to the unlettered

untutored may imply lack of schooling in the arts and ways of civilization.

strange monuments built by an untutored people

unlearned suggests ignorance of advanced subjects.

poetry not for academics but for the unlearned masses

Examples of unlettered in a Sentence

unlettered moviegoers could scarcely imagine how little resemblance the film bore to the novel on which it was supposedly based
Recent Examples on the Web The unlettered Prince has gained in life what Hamlet achieved only in death: his own story shaped on his own terms, thanks to the intervention of a skillful Horatio. Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, 13 Jan. 2023 Busby Berkeley Wrongly taken as a mere ornamentalist—even worse, sometimes mistaken for a fascist—Busby Berkeley was an erotic sociobiologist, an unlettered philosopher in visual music. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 23 July 2022 The characters include a temperamental goat, a sweet-natured monk, an unlettered orphan boy and an intelligent young girl whose destiny is to dethrone a king. Meghan Cox Gurdon, WSJ, 10 Dec. 2021 Their first point of concern is that unlettered and uninformed residents were herded into vehicles and enrolled as trial participants. Manavi Kapur, Quartz India, 12 Jan. 2021 The British Admiralty sent ships in search of pathways through the ice that would lead to this mythic sea, an objective scoffed at by unlettered whalers who spent their lives in waters along the edge of the sea ice and knew better. David James, Anchorage Daily News, 3 Aug. 2019 Her husband constantly referred to her dismissively as a simple, unlettered woman. Ferdinand Mount, WSJ, 1 Nov. 2018 The consequences of Kanye West’s unlettered view of America and its history are, if anything, more direct. Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic, 7 May 2018 In the tradition of both black and white southern folk preaching, ministers usually spoke extemporaneously to unlettered congregants, who expected the Spirit of God to impart messages of encouragement and hope. The Economist, 28 Mar. 2018

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'unlettered.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of unlettered was in the 14th century

Dictionary Entries Near unlettered

Cite this Entry

“Unlettered.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unlettered. Accessed 18 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


un·​let·​tered ˌən-ˈlet-ərd How to pronounce unlettered (audio)
: not having knowledge especially of the kind gained from books
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