[ ree-uh-liz-uhm ]
See synonyms for realism on
  1. interest in or concern for the actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative, etc.

  2. the tendency to view or represent things as they really are.

  1. Fine Arts.

    • treatment of forms, colors, space, etc., in such a manner as to emphasize their correspondence to actuality or to ordinary visual experience.: Compare idealism (def. 4), naturalism (def. 2).

    • (usually initial capital letter) a style of painting and sculpture developed about the mid-19th century in which figures and scenes are depicted as they are experienced or might be experienced in everyday life.

  2. Literature.

    • a manner of treating subject matter that presents a careful description of everyday life, usually of the lower and middle classes.

    • a theory of writing in which the ordinary, familiar, or mundane aspects of life are represented in a straightforward or matter-of-fact manner that is presumed to reflect life as it actually is.: Compare naturalism (def. 1b).

  3. Philosophy.

    • the doctrine that universals have a real objective existence.: Compare conceptualism, nominalism.

    • the doctrine that objects of sense perception have an existence independent of the act of perception.: Compare idealism (def. 5a).

Origin of realism

1810–20; real1 + -ism; compare French réalisme

Other words from realism

  • an·ti·re·al·ism, noun
  • hy·per·re·al·ism, noun
  • non·re·al·ism, noun
  • o·ver·re·al·ism, noun
  • pro·re·al·ism, noun
  • ul·tra·re·al·ism, noun
  • un·re·al·ism, noun

Words Nearby realism Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use realism in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for realism


/ (ˈrɪəˌlɪzəm) /

  1. awareness or acceptance of the physical universe, events, etc, as they are, as opposed to the abstract or ideal

  2. awareness or acceptance of the facts and necessities of life; a practical rather than a moral or dogmatic view of things

  1. a style of painting and sculpture that seeks to represent the familiar or typical in real life, rather than an idealized, formalized, or romantic interpretation of it

  2. any similar school or style in other arts, esp literature

  3. philosophy the thesis that general terms such as common nouns refer to entities that have a real existence separate from the individuals which fall under them: See also universal (def. 11b) Compare Platonism, nominalism, conceptualism, naive realism

  4. philosophy the theory that physical objects continue to exist whether they are perceived or not: Compare idealism, phenomenalism

  5. logic philosophy the theory that the sense of a statement is given by a specification of its truth conditions, or that there is a reality independent of the speaker's conception of it that determines the truth or falsehood of every statement

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

Cultural definitions for realism (1 of 2)


An approach to philosophy that regards external objects as the most fundamentally real things, with perceptions or ideas as secondary. Realism is thus opposed to idealism. Materialism and naturalism are forms of realism. The term realism is also used to describe a movement in literature that attempts to portray life as it is.


An attempt to make art and literature resemble life. Realist painters and writers take their subjects from the world around them (instead of from idealized subjects, such as figures in mythology or folklore) and try to represent them in a lifelike manner.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.