[ ih-lit-er-it ]
/ ɪˈlɪt ər ɪt /


unable to read and write: an illiterate group.
having or demonstrating very little or no education.
showing lack of culture, especially in language and literature.
displaying a marked lack of knowledge in a particular field: He is musically illiterate.


an illiterate person.

Nearby words

  1. illinois waterway,
  2. illinoisan,
  3. illiquid,
  4. illite,
  5. illiteracy,
  6. illiterati,
  7. illitic,
  8. illness,
  9. illocution,
  10. illocutionary

Origin of illiterate

First recorded in 1550–60, illiterate is from the Latin word illiterātus unlettered. See il-2, literate

Related forms
Can be confusedillegible illiterate unreadableilliterate innumerate Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for illiterate

British Dictionary definitions for illiterate


/ (ɪˈlɪtərɪt) /


unable to read and write
violating accepted standards in reading and writingan illiterate scrawl
uneducated, ignorant, or unculturedscientifically illiterate


an illiterate person
Derived Formsilliteracy or illiterateness, nounilliterately, adverb

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 illiterate



early 15c., "uneducated, unable to read (originally of Latin)," from Latin illiteratus "unlearned, unlettered, ignorant; without culture, inelegant," from assimilated form of in- "not, opposite of" (see in- (1)) + literatus, literally "furnished with letters" (see literate). As a noun meaning "illiterate person" from 1620s. Hence, illiterati (1788).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper