[ lit-er-uh-cher, -choor, li-truh- ]
/ ˈlɪt ər ə tʃər, -ˌtʃʊər, ˈlɪ trə- /
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Definition of literature

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Origin of literature

First recorded in 1375–1425; late Middle English litterature, from Latin litterātūra “grammar;” see origin at literate, -ure

synonym study for literature

1. Literature, belles-lettres, letters refer to artistic writings worthy of being remembered. In the broadest sense, literature includes any type of writings on any subject: the literature of medicine; usually, however, it means the body of artistic writings of a country or period that are characterized by beauty of expression and form and by universality of intellectual and emotional appeal: English literature of the 16th century. Belles-lettres is a more specific term for writings of a light, elegant, or excessively refined character: His talent is not for scholarship but for belles-lettres. Letters (rare today outside of certain fixed phrases) refers to literature as a domain of study or creation: a man of letters.


pre·lit·er·a·ture, noun

Words nearby literature

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What is literature?

Literature is writing that uses artistic expression and form and is considered to have merit or be important.

As an artistic term, literature refers to written works, such as novels, short stories, biographies, memories, essays, and poetry. However, songs, movies, TV shows, video games, and paintings are typically not considered to be literature because the final output is not text.

At the same time, literature is usually thought to only include works of art. Informative works like newspapers, scientific journals, religious texts, press releases, and spreadsheets are generally not considered to be literature.

Yet in scientific study, especially anthropology or history, the word literature is used more broadly to describe everything that a specific society or group has ever written. For example, a researcher may be studying “Persian literature,” which would include even mundane, non-artistic pieces of writing that was created by a citizen of the Persian empire, such as lists of food supplies.

Why is literature important?

The first records of the word literature come from around 1375. It ultimately comes from the Latin litterātūra, meaning “grammar” or “writing.”

What writings are considered literature is often debated. Average readers and literary experts often disagree on what counts as literature. Literary experts also disagree among themselves what is and isn’t literature. Usually, literature is defined as being “of interest” or having importance, which is obviously a subjective quality. Who gets to decide if a piece of writing is important? In the past, the answer was “people who can read.” In your own life, the literature you have studied has most likely been selected by an English teacher or a literature department at a college.

In everyday life, the word literature is most likely to be used when speaking academically or scholastically. Libraries and stores that sell books are less likely to use this broad, unhelpful term and are more likely to categorize written works using more specific words, like poetry, romance, or young adult fiction.

Did you know … ?

The oldest author whose name we know was Enheduanna, a Sumerian princess and high priestess who wrote poetry dedicated to the gods over 4,000 years ago. Her literature is the oldest written work we know of.

What are real-life examples of literature?

People have many different opinions on what kinds of literature they like to read.


What other words are related to literature?

Quiz yourself!

Which of the following is NOT considered to be literature?

A. a nature poem
B. a science fiction novel
C. a murder mystery television show
D. a president’s autobiography

How to use literature in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for literature

/ (ˈlɪtərɪtʃə, ˈlɪtrɪ-) /

written material such as poetry, novels, essays, etc, esp works of imagination characterized by excellence of style and expression and by themes of general or enduring interest
the body of written work of a particular culture or peopleScandinavian literature
written or printed matter of a particular type or on a particular subjectscientific literature; the literature of the violin
printed material giving a particular type of informationsales literature
the art or profession of a writer
obsolete learning

Word Origin for literature

C14: from Latin litterātūra writing; see letter
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