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noun (1)

let·​ter ˈle-tər How to pronounce letter (audio)
: a symbol usually written or printed representing a speech sound and constituting a unit of an alphabet
: a direct or personal written or printed message addressed to a person or organization
: a written communication containing a grant
usually used in plural
letters plural in form but singular or plural in construction
: the strict or outward sense or significance
the letter of the law
: a single piece of type
: a style of type
: the initial of a school awarded to a student for achievement usually in athletics


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lettered; lettering; letters

transitive verb

: to set down in letters : print
: to mark with letters

intransitive verb

: to win an athletic letter
letterer noun


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noun (2)

let·​ter ˈle-tər How to pronounce letter (audio)
: one that rents or leases

Word History


Noun (1)

Middle English, from Anglo-French lettre, from Latin littera letter of the alphabet, litterae, plural, epistle, literature

First Known Use

Noun (1)

13th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1504, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1

Noun (2)

1552, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of letter was in the 13th century

Dictionary Entries Near letter

Cite this Entry

“Letter.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/letter. Accessed 2 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
let·​ter ˈlet-ər How to pronounce letter (audio)
: one of the marks that are symbols for speech sounds in writing or print and that make up the alphabet
: a written or printed communication
: the strict or outward meaning
the letter of the law
: the initial of a school awarded to a student especially for athletic achievement


2 of 2 verb
: to mark with letters
letterer noun

Legal Definition


: a direct written statement addressed to an individual or organization
broadly : an official communication see also counterletter
Crummey letter \ ˈkrə-​mē \
: a letter from the trustee of a Crummey trust notifying the beneficiary of his or her right to withdraw funds for a given time
determination letter
: a letter from an administrative agency (as the Internal Revenue Service) usually in response to a request in which a determination, decision, or ruling is made
information letter
: a letter from an administrative agency usually in response to a request that provides information and especially that simply calls attention to an interpretation or principle of law
letter of intent
: a letter in which the intention to enter into a formal agreement (as a contract) or to take some specified action is stated
letter rogatory \ -​ˈrō-​gə-​ˌtȯr-​ē \ probably partial translation of Medieval Latin littera rogatoria letter of request
: a formal written request by a court to a court in a foreign jurisdiction to summon and examine a witness in accordance with that jurisdiction's procedures (as oral interrogatories) usually used in pl.
90-day letter
: a letter from the Internal Revenue Service notifying a taxpayer of a determination of a deficiency

Note: A taxpayer has 90 days from the date of the mailing of the 90-day letter to petition for a redetermination of the deficiency in the U.S. Tax Court.

no-action letter
: a letter from an attorney for the Securities and Exchange Commission recommending that the Commission take no prosecutorial action with regard to a suspected and investigated violation of SEC rules or regulations
opinion letter
: a letter in which an opinion (as of a court or attorney) is given
ruling letter
: determination letter in this entry
30-day letter
: a letter from the Internal Revenue Service to a taxpayer who has been audited and disputes the auditor's determination that sets out the taxpayer's right to appeal

Note: A taxpayer has 30 days from the time of the mailing of the 30-day letter to respond.

: a written communication usually from a court containing a grant (as of a right) or an appointment
usually used in pl.
letter of attorney
letter of marque \ -​ˈmärk \ Anglo-French mark, marque right of retaliation, from Middle French marque, from Old Provençal marca, from marcar to mark, seize as pledge
: a letter from a government formerly used to grant a private person the power to seize the subjects of a foreign state
specifically : authority granted to a private person to fit out an armed ship to plunder the enemy
usually used in pl.
often used in the phrase letters of marque and reprisal
the Congress shall have power…to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water U.S. Constitution art. I
letters of administration
: a letter from a probate court that appoints the addressee administrator of an estate
letters patent
: a letter (as from a government) that grants a designated person a right (as to property) and that is in a form open for public inspection : patent
letters testamentary
: a letter from a probate court that appoints or confirms the executor of an estate

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