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

Origin of illiterate

First recorded in 1550–60, illiterate is from the Latin word illiterātus unlettered. See il-2, literate
Related formsil·lit·er·ate·ly, adverbil·lit·er·ate·ness, nounsem·i-il·lit·er·ate, adjectivesem·i-il·lit·er·ate·ly, adverbsem·i-il·lit·er·ate·ness, noun
Can be confusedillegible illiterate unreadableilliterate innumerate

Synonyms for illiterate

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

Examples from the Web for illiterates

Historical Examples of illiterates

British Dictionary definitions for illiterates


  1. unable to read and write
  2. violating accepted standards in reading and writingan illiterate scrawl
  3. uneducated, ignorant, or unculturedscientifically illiterate
  1. 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 illiterates



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