liberal arts

plural noun

Definition of liberal arts

1 : the medieval studies comprising the trivium and quadrivium
2 : college or university studies (such as language, philosophy, literature, abstract science) intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop general intellectual capacities (such as reason and judgment) as opposed to professional or vocational skills

Why do we call the liberal arts "liberal"?

The liberal in liberal arts, a cornerstone of the education of so many, has very little to do with political leanings; its roots can be traced to the Latin word liber, meaning “free, unrestricted.” Our language took the term from the Latin liberales artes, which described the education given to freeman and members of the upper classes, and involved training in the mind (grammar, logic, geometry, etc.). The lower classes were educated in the servile arts, which were mechanical or occupational in nature. The phrase liberal arts has been part of our language for a very long time, with use dating back to the 14th century.

Examples of liberal arts in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Saint Michael's College, a liberal arts school north of Burlington, reported that 77 students tested positive for the virus this week and last, according to the college's covid-19 dashboard. The New York Times, Arkansas Online, 10 Nov. 2021 Trinity Athletic Director Bob King said a good varsity program has a major role to play in reaching the university’s goal of becoming a top 25 liberal arts school nationally. Danya Perez, San Antonio Express-News, 5 Nov. 2021 The liberal arts school is in Georgetown, 70 miles east of Louisville. Ayana Archie, The Courier-Journal, 2 Nov. 2021 The accusations and fallout from the administration’s response rocked the 2,000-student liberal arts college in McMinnville. oregonlive, 29 Oct. 2021 Catawba College, a private, liberal arts college in Salisbury, North Carolina, has received the largest gift in its 170-year history. Michael T. Nietzel, Forbes, 22 Oct. 2021 The event at Montgomery’s Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center was the annual scholarship benefit dinner for Faulkner, a private, Christian liberal arts university based in Montgomery. Mike Cason |, al, 7 Oct. 2021 Alumni say the ad is divisive and contrary to the Delaware, Ohio, liberal arts school’s values of diversity and inclusion. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 13 Oct. 2021 Salem College is a private liberal arts school for women, with a total enrollment of about 600 students. Michael T. Nietzel, Forbes, 22 Sep. 2021

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of liberal arts was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

22 Nov 2021

Cite this Entry

“Liberal arts.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2021.

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liberal arts


English Language Learners Definition of liberal arts

: areas of study (such as history, language, and literature) that are intended to give you general knowledge rather than to develop specific skills needed for a profession

More from Merriam-Webster on liberal arts

Nglish: Translation of liberal arts for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about liberal arts


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