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letter1

[let-er]
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noun
  1. a written or printed communication addressed to a person or organization and usually transmitted by mail.
  2. a symbol or character that is conventionally used in writing and printing to represent a speech sound and that is part of an alphabet.
  3. a piece of printing type bearing such a symbol or character.
  4. a particular style of type.
  5. such types collectively.
  6. Often letters. a formal document granting a right or privilege.
  7. actual terms or wording; literal meaning, as distinct from implied meaning or intent (opposed to spirit): the letter of the law.
  8. letters, (used with a singular or plural verb)
    1. literature in general.
    2. the profession of literature.
    3. learning; knowledge, especially of literature.
  9. an emblem consisting of the initial or monogram of a school, awarded to a student for extracurricular activity, especially in athletics.
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verb (used with object)
  1. to mark or write with letters; inscribe.
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verb (used without object)
  1. to earn a letter in an interscholastic or intercollegiate activity, especially a sport: He lettered in track at Harvard.
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Idioms
  1. to the letter, to the last particular; precisely: His orders were carried out to the letter.
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Origin of letter1

1175–1225; Middle English, variant of lettre < Old French < Latin littera alphabetic character, in plural, epistle, literature
Related formslet·ter·er, nounlet·ter·less, adjective
Can be confusedletter lighter liter litter

Synonyms

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8. See literature.

letter2

[let-er]
noun Chiefly British.
  1. a person who lets, especially one who rents out property.
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Origin of letter2

1375–1425; late Middle English letere; see let1, -er1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for letters

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • But Mr. Paine assured her that letters were likely to be irregular, and there was no ground for alarm.

    Brave and Bold

    Horatio Alger

  • Of course they did not use the letters which have been used to print this book.

    Ancient Man

    Hendrik Willem van Loon

  • In one of his letters he says: "Harriet has hitched on, and with all her might; she is a whole team."

  • Sent her back her letters—with a tickler to herself on her conduct.

  • I take you at your word, Clarissa—Give me his letters; and the copies of yours.

    Clarissa, Volume 1 (of 9)

    Samuel Richardson


British Dictionary definitions for letters

letters

noun (functioning as plural or singular)
  1. literary knowledge, ability, or learninga man of letters
  2. literary culture in general
  3. an official title, degree, etc, indicated by an abbreviationletters after one's name
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letter

noun
  1. any of a set of conventional symbols used in writing or printing a language, each symbol being associated with a group of phonetic values in the language; character of the alphabet
  2. a written or printed communication addressed to a person, company, etc, usually sent by post in an envelopeRelated adjective: epistolary
  3. the letter the strict legalistic or pedantic interpretation of the meaning of an agreement, document, etc; exact wording as distinct from actual intention (esp in the phrase the letter of the law)Compare spirit 1 (def. 10)
  4. printing archaic a style of typefacea fancy letter
  5. to the letter
    1. following the literal interpretation or wording exactly
    2. attending to every detail
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verb
  1. to write or mark letters on (a sign, etc), esp by hand
  2. (tr) to set down or print using letters
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See also letters
Derived Formsletterer, noun

Word Origin

C13: from Old French lettre, from Latin littera letter of the alphabet
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for letters

n.

"the profession of authorship or literature," mid-13c., from plural of letter (n.).

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letter

v.

"to write in letters," 1660s, from letter (n.1). Earlier it meant "to instruct" (mid-15c.). Related: Lettered; lettering.

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letter

n.2

"one who lets" in any sense, c.1400, agent noun from let (v.).

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letter

n.1

c.1200, "graphic symbol, alphabetic sign, written character," from Old French letre (10c., Modern French lettre) "character, letter; missive, note," in plural, "literature, writing, learning," from Latin littera (also litera) "letter of the alphabet," of uncertain origin, perhaps via Etruscan from Greek diphthera "tablet," with change of d- to l- as in lachrymose. In this sense it replaced Old English bocstæf, literally "book staff" (cf. German Buchstabe "letter, character," from Old High German buohstab, from Proto-Germanic *bok-staba-m).

Latin littera also meant "a writing, document, record," and in plural litteræ "a letter, epistle," a sense first attested in English early 13c., replacing Old English ærendgewrit, literally "errand-writing." The Latin plural also meant "literature, books," and figuratively "learning, liberal education, schooling" (see letters). School letter in sports, attested by 1908, were said to have been first awarded by University of Chicago football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg. Expression to the letter "precisely" is from 1520s (earlier as after the letter). Letter-perfect is from 1845, originally in theater jargon, in reference to an actor knowing the lines exactly. Letter-press, in reference to matter printed from relief surfaces, is from 1840.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with letters

letter

In addition to the idiom beginning with letter

also see:

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.