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See more synonyms for illiterate on Thesaurus.com
  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.
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  1. an illiterate person.
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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


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

Related Words


Examples from the Web for illiterates

Historical Examples

  • And don't forget that the illiterates have the power in their hands.

    Ireland as It Is

    Robert John Buckley (AKA R.J.B.)

  • The other caste—the Illiterates—were dependents of the Intellectuals.

  • But Italy is not the country of illiterates that the stranger presupposes.

  • Certainly not of the great mass of working women and illiterates!

    Pedagogical Anthropology

    Maria Montessori

  • Have not women, the illiterates of love, all the intuitions of ignorance?

    Very Woman

    Remy de Gourmont

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
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  1. an illiterate person
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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).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper