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[lib-er-uh l, lib-ruh l] /ˈlɪb ər əl, ˈlɪb rəl/
favorable to progress or reform, as in political or religious affairs.
(often initial capital letter) noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform.
of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism, especially the freedom of the individual and governmental guarantees of individual rights and liberties.
favorable to or in accord with concepts of maximum individual freedom possible, especially as guaranteed by law and secured by governmental protection of civil liberties.
favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression:
a liberal policy toward dissident artists and writers.
of or relating to representational forms of government rather than aristocracies and monarchies.
free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant:
a liberal attitude toward foreigners.
open-minded or tolerant, especially free of or not bound by traditional or conventional ideas, values, etc.
characterized by generosity and willingness to give in large amounts:
a liberal donor.
given freely or abundantly; generous:
a liberal donation.
not strict or rigorous; free; not literal:
a liberal interpretation of a rule.
of, relating to, or based on the liberal arts.
of, relating to, or befitting a freeman.
a person of liberal principles or views, especially in politics or religion.
(often initial capital letter) a member of a liberal party in politics, especially of the Liberal party in Great Britain.
Origin of liberal
1325-75; Middle English < Latin līberālis of freedom, befitting the free, equivalent to līber free + -ālis -al1
Related forms
liberally, adverb
liberalness, noun
antiliberal, adjective, noun
antiliberally, adverb
antiliberalness, noun
half-liberal, adjective
half-liberally, adverb
nonliberal, adjective
overliberal, adjective
overliberally, adverb
preliberal, adjective, noun
preliberally, adverb
pseudoliberal, adjective, noun
pseudoliberally, adverb
quasi-liberal, adjective
quasi-liberally, adverb
semiliberal, adjective, noun
semiliberally, adverb
unliberal, adjective
unliberally, adverb
1. progressive. 7. broad-minded, unprejudiced. 9. beneficent, charitable, openhanded, munificent, unstinting, lavish.
1. reactionary. 8. intolerant. 9, 10. niggardly.
Synonym Study
9. See generous. 10. See ample.


[lib-er-uh l, lib-ruh l] /ˈlɪb ər əl, ˈlɪb rəl/
a city in SW Kansas. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for liberal
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • They were never allowed to learn any liberal art, or to sing manly songs.

    Philothea Lydia Maria Child
  • His life has been that of his century—progressive, liberal, humanitarian in its trend.

    The Grand Old Man Richard B. Cook
  • Mr. Robert Lowe, a liberal, became one of its most powerful assailants.

    The Grand Old Man Richard B. Cook
  • This was regarded as the bugle-call to the liberal party for the coming battle.

    The Grand Old Man Richard B. Cook
  • Mr. Gladstone was hailed everywhere as the leader of the liberal party.

    The Grand Old Man Richard B. Cook
British Dictionary definitions for liberal


/ˈlɪbərəl; ˈlɪbrəl/
relating to or having social and political views that favour progress and reform
relating to or having policies or views advocating individual freedom
giving and generous in temperament or behaviour
tolerant of other people
abundant; lavish: a liberal helping of cream
not strict; free: a liberal translation
of or relating to an education that aims to develop general cultural interests and intellectual ability
a person who has liberal ideas or opinions
Derived Forms
liberally, adverb
liberalness, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Latin līberālis of freedom, from līber free


/ˈlɪbərəl; ˈlɪbrəl/
a member or supporter of a Liberal Party or Liberal Democrat party
of or relating to a Liberal Party
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
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Word Origin and History for liberal

mid-14c., "generous," also, late 14c., "selfless; noble, nobly born; abundant," and, early 15c., in a bad sense "extravagant, unrestrained," from Old French liberal "befitting free men, noble, generous, willing, zealous" (12c.), from Latin liberalis "noble, gracious, munificent, generous," literally "of freedom, pertaining to or befitting a free man," from liber "free, unrestricted, unimpeded; unbridled, unchecked, licentious," from PIE *leudh-ero- (cf. Greek eleutheros "free"), probably originally "belonging to the people" (though the precise semantic development is obscure), and a suffixed form of the base *leudh- "people" (cf. Old Church Slavonic ljudu, Lithuanian liaudis, Old English leod, German Leute "nation, people;" Old High German liut "person, people") but literally "to mount up, to grow."

With the meaning "free from restraint in speech or action," liberal was used 16c.-17c. as a term of reproach. It revived in a positive sense in the Enlightenment, with a meaning "free from prejudice, tolerant," which emerged 1776-88.

In reference to education, explained by Fowler as "the education designed for a gentleman (Latin liber a free man) & ... opposed on the one hand to technical or professional or any special training, & on the other to education that stops short before manhood is reached" (cf. liberal arts). Purely in reference to political opinion, "tending in favor of freedom and democracy" it dates from c.1801, from French libéral, originally applied in English by its opponents (often in French form and with suggestions of foreign lawlessness) to the party favorable to individual political freedoms. But also (especially in U.S. politics) tending to mean "favorable to government action to effect social change," which seems at times to draw more from the religious sense of "free from prejudice in favor of traditional opinions and established institutions" (and thus open to new ideas and plans of reform), which dates from 1823.

Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others. [Ambrose Bierce, "Devil's Dictionary," 1911]


1820, "member of the Liberal party of Great Britain," from liberal (adj.). Used early 20c. of less dogmatic Christian churches; in reference to a political ideology not conservative or fascist but short of socialism, from c.1920.

This is the attitude of mind which has come to be known as liberal. It implies vigorous convictions, tolerance for the opinions of others, and a persistent desire for sound progress. It is a method of approach which has played a notable and constructive part in our history, and which merits a thorough trial today in the attack on our absorbingly interesting American task. [Guy Emerson, "The New Frontier," 1920]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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liberal in Culture

liberal definition

A descriptive term for persons, policies, and beliefs associated with liberalism.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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