[French bel-le-truh]
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plural noun
  1. literature regarded as a fine art, especially as having a purely aesthetic function.
  2. light and elegant literature, especially that which is excessively refined, characterized by aestheticism, and minor in subject, substance, or scope.

Origin of belles-lettres

1700–10; < French: literally, fine letters. See belle, letter1
Related formsbel·let·rist [bel-le-trist] /bɛlˈlɛ trɪst/, nounbel·let·ris·tic [bel-li-tris-tik] /ˌbɛl lɪˈtrɪs tɪk/, adjective

Synonyms for belles-lettres

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1. See literature. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for belletrist

brain, intellectual, savant, scholar, belletrist, litterateur, wordsmith

British Dictionary definitions for belletrist


  1. a writer of belles-lettres
Derived Formsbelletrism, nounbelletristic (ˌbɛlɪˈtrɪstɪk), adjective


  1. (functioning as singular) literary works, esp essays and poetry, valued for their aesthetic rather than their informative or moral content

Word Origin for belles-lettres

C17: from French: fine letters
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 belletrist

also bellettrist, 1816, from belles-lettres + -ist. Adjective belletristic is recorded from 1821.



"elegant literature, aesthetics," 1710, French, literally "fine letters," from belles, plural of belle, fem. of beau "fine, beautiful" (see beau) + lettres, plural of lettre "letter" (see letter). The literary equivalent of beaux arts.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper