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See also: Analphabet



From Late Latin analphabetus (unable to read and write; illiterate), from Ancient Greek ἀναλφάβητος (analphábētos, illiterate), from ἀν- (an-, un-) + ἀλφάβητος (alphábētos, alphabet); analysable as an- +‎ alphabet. The English word was probably influenced by cognate words in other languages such as French analphabète (adjective), German Analphabetus, Analphabet (nouns), analphabeten (adjective), Italian analfabeta (adjective, noun), analfabeto (adjective, noun), Portuguese analfabeto (adjective), Spanish analfabeto (adjective, noun).[1]

The adjective was derived from the noun.[1]



analphabet (plural analphabets)

  1. A person who does not know the letters of the alphabet; a partly or wholly illiterate person. [from mid 17th c.]
    Synonym: (noun) illiterate
    • 1896, J[ohn] M[orrison] Reid, J. T. Gracey, “Part XI. Mission to Italy.”, in Missions and the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church [] In Three Volumes, volume III, New York, N.Y.: Hunt & Eaton; Cincinnati, Oh.: Cranston & Curts, section 7 (Annual Conferences, 1886–1887), page 327:
      In 1861, out of a total population of 21,777,331, there were no less than 16,999,701 "analphabetes," or persons absolutely unable to read.
    • 1960, Opera, volume 11, London: Rolls House Publishing Company, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 281:
      The governor of a distant province receives a telegram from the Ministry asking how many analphabets (illiterates) there are in his area. Neither he nor his colleagues know what an analphabet is, but as anarchism also begins with 'an' they guess that an analphabet must be a dangerous enemy of the state, and report that they have only one—the schoolmaster.
    • 1968, Robert [Ligon] Harrison, Samuel Beckett’s Murphy: A Critical Excursion (University of Georgia Monographs; no. 15), Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, →OCLC, page 57:
      The Beckettian progression appears occasionally: while Miss Counihan (static) is an omnivorous reader and Murphy (transitional) a strict non-reader, Cooper is an analphabete.
    • 1985, Jacob L[ouis] Mey, “Language Manipulation”, in Whose Language?: A Study in Linguistic Pragmatics, Amsterdam, Philadelphia, Pa.: John Benjamins Publishing Company, →ISBN, section 1.3 (Concluding Remarks), paragraph 66, page 84:
      As to [Paulo] Freire's methods, we should keep in mind that they were primarily developed to teach adult analphabets their own language, as a part of a 'conscientization' process.
    • 1986, Michael Hofmann, “From A to B and Back Again”, in Frank Ormsby, Robert Johnstone, editors, The Honest Ulsterman, number 82, Belfast: Michael Stephens, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 16; reprinted in Mark Ford, editor, London: A History in Verse, Cambridge, Mass., London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012, →ISBN, page 704:
      The porter was an analphabete, but together / we found your name, down among the Os, / and there you were, my brave love, / in a loose hospital gown that covered nothing; []
    • 1989, David Yau-Fai Ho, John A. Spinks, Cecilia Siu-Hing Yeung, editors, Chinese Patterns of Behavior: A Sourcebook of Psychological and Psychiatric Studies, New York, N.Y., London: Praeger, →ISBN, page 380, column 2:
      (1) What is the impact of not learning written language on the aphasic semeiology of an analphabet? (2) How do physiological mechanisms relate to the production of language in an analphabet? (3) What relationships, if any, can be discerned between an adult analphabet and the aphasia of a child before learning how to write.

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analphabet (comparative more analphabet, superlative most analphabet)

  1. Ignorant of the letters of the alphabet; partly or wholly illiterate. [from mid 17th c.]
    Synonym: (adjective) illiterate
    • 1686, Richard Lassels, “The Description and Voyage of Italy”, in The Voyage of Italy: Or, A Compleat Journey through Italy. In Two Parts. [], London: Printed for R. C. J. R. and A. C. and are to be sold by Charles Shortgrave [], →OCLC, part I, page 81:
      [] Vincentius Pinelli’s Books, which after his death, being ſhipped by his Heirs for Naples, and taken by the Turks, were many of them thrown overboard by thoſe Analphabet Rogues, who looked for other merchandiſe than Books. Yet many of them were recovered again for Money, []
    • 1908, John P[rice] Jones, “Islam in India”, in India: Its Life and Thought, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, →OCLC, section III (What is the Character of the Mohammedan Population in India?), page 329:
      And of the Mohammedan population nearly all the women are analphabet.
    • 1965, Commonweal, volume 82, →ISSN, →OCLC, page 325, column 1:
      All these love tales are in verse, transmitted up to this day, through countless generations of oral tradition by an analphabete people with an inborn, unerring sense of art.
    • 2013, Laurence Cossé, chapter 2, in Alison Anderson, transl., Bitter Almonds, New York, N.Y.: Europa Editions, →ISBN:
      The illustrious bookstore has nothing for helping analphabets. The sales assistant looks like a pontificating doctor, and informs Édith that there is a difference between analphabet and illiterate: [] The two encyclopedias Édith and Gilles have at home do not make any distinction between illiterate and analphabet.
    • 2016 April 7, Thami J. Khalil, Faith, Growth and Success[1], Bloomington, Ind.: AuthorHouse, →ISBN:
      To present myself, I gave the contractor my business card. He gave it twenty seconds of concentrated attention and then passed it to his secretary. The contractor joked that his secretary would give it the high level of attention it deserved. He was analphabet. I could have confused the package with the product and rapidly concluded that I had nothing to expect for our business from an analphabet contractor and gently blow up the meeting. I didn't.



  1. 1.0 1.1 analphabet, adj. and n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, November 2010; “analphabet”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

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