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Recorded in English since 1556, from Latin illitteratus (unlearned, ignorant), itself from in- (un-) + litteratus (furnished with letters) (from littera (letter, character)).


  • IPA(key): /ɪˈlɪtəɹət/, /ɪˈlɪtɹət/
  • (file)


illiterate (comparative more illiterate, superlative most illiterate)

  1. Unable to read and write.
    • 1647, Theodore de la Guard [pseudonym; Nathaniel Ward], The Simple Cobler of Aggawam in America. [], London: [] J[ohn] D[ever] & R[obert] I[bbitson] for Stephen Bowtell, [], →OCLC, page 37:
      If publique Aſſemblies of Divines cannot agree upon a right vvay, private Conventicles of illeterate men, vvill ſoon finde a vvrong. Bivious demurres breed devious reſolutions. Paſſengers to heaven are in haſte, and vvill vvalk one vvay or other.
    About half of the population in Ethiopia is illiterate.
  2. Having less than an expected standard of familiarity with language and literature, or having little formal education.
    • 1722, William Wollaston, “Sect. V. Truths relating to the Deity. Of his exiſtence, perfection, providence, &c.”, in The Religion of Nature Delineated[1], page 81:
      Ignorant and ſuperſtitious wretches meaſure the actions of letterd and philoſophical men by the tattle of their nurſes or illiterate parents and companions, or by the faſhion of the country : and people of differing religions judge and condemn each other by their own tenents ; when both of them cannot be in the right, and it is well if either of them are.
  3. Not conforming to prescribed standards of speech or writing.
    • 1908, “lay v.¹”, in James A. H. Murray et al., editors, A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (Oxford English Dictionary), volume VI, Part 1, London: Clarendon Press, →OCLC, page 128:
      Now (exc. in Nautical language, see b) it is only dialectal or an illiterate substitute for lie, its identity of form with the past tense of the latter no doubt accounting largely for the confusion.
  4. Ignorant in a specified way or about a specified subject.
    economically illiterate, emotionally illiterate



Derived terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

See also[edit]


illiterate (plural illiterates)

  1. An illiterate person, one either not able to read and write or not knowing how.
  2. A person ignorant about a given subject.
    The government is run by business illiterates.



See also[edit]