• synonyms


  1. pertaining to or of the nature of books and writings, especially those classed as literature: literary history.
  2. pertaining to authorship: literary style.
  3. versed in or acquainted with literature; well-read.
  4. engaged in or having the profession of literature or writing: a literary man.
  5. characterized by an excessive or affected display of learning; stilted; pedantic.
  6. preferring books to actual experience; bookish.
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Origin of literary

1640–50; < Latin līterārius, litterārius of reading and writing. See letter1, -ary
Related formslit·er·ar·i·ly, adverblit·er·ar·i·ness, nounnon·lit·er·ar·i·ly, adverbnon·lit·er·ar·i·ly·ness, nounnon·lit·er·ar·i·ness, nounnon·lit·er·ar·y, adjectiveo·ver·lit·er·ar·i·ly, adverbo·ver·lit·er·ar·i·ness, nouno·ver·lit·er·ar·y, adjectivepre·lit·er·ar·y, adjectivepseu·do·lit·er·ar·y, adjectivequa·si-lit·er·ar·y, adjectiveun·lit·er·ar·y, adjective

Usage note

In this dictionary, the label Literary is assigned to an entry term or definition that is used rarely in contemporary speech or writing except to create a literary, poetic, or evocative effect.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for unliterary

Historical Examples of unliterary

  • Of all the literary men I have known he was the most unliterary in his make and manner.

    Literary Friends And Acquaintances

    William Dean Howells

  • He had been reared in an environment as unliterary as Mark Twain's.

  • Of their doings (unliterary) some account will be found in the preceding pages.


    W. S. Crockett

  • The unliterary words were ejected, it seemed, by a demon within.

    Angela's Business

    Henry Sydnor Harrison

  • My unliterary environment has doubtless been best suited to me.

    Rambles with John Burroughs

    Robert John De Loach

British Dictionary definitions for unliterary


  1. of, relating to, concerned with, or characteristic of literature or scholarly writinga literary discussion; a literary style
  2. versed in or knowledgeable about literaturea literary man
  3. (of a word) formal; not colloquial
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Derived Formsliterarily, adverbliterariness, noun

Word Origin for literary

C17: from Latin litterārius concerning reading and 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

Word Origin and History for unliterary



1640s, "pertaining to alphabet letters," from French littéraire, from Latin literarius/litterarius "belonging to letters or learning," from littera/litera "letter" (see letter (n.1)). Meaning "pertaining to literature" is attested from 1737.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper