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[ih-lit-er-it] /ɪˈlɪt ər ɪt/
unable to read and write:
an illiterate group.
having or demonstrating very little or no education.
showing lack of culture, especially in language and literature.
displaying a marked lack of knowledge in a particular field:
He is musically illiterate.
an illiterate person.
Origin of illiterate
1550-60; < Latin illiterātus unlettered. See il-2, literate
Related forms
illiterately, adverb
illiterateness, noun
semi-illiterate, adjective
semi-illiterately, adverb
semi-illiterateness, noun
Can be confused
illegible, illiterate, unreadable.
illiterate, innumerate.
1. See ignorant. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for illiterate
  • It's particularly useful for illiterate members of the community, who may be unable to write text messages.
  • The brother showed her an official-looking paper, but being illiterate, she couldn't read it.
  • Cooper's remarkable life transcended his humble origins as a nearly illiterate wheelwright and his flamboyantly flawed ethics.
  • Upon arrival, the new students were illiterate, but after only one year they tested highest in the county.
  • These fighters-some illiterate, but also including a couple of university graduates-had been at war for years.
  • But it's not always a case of science-illiterate politicians setting unrealistic goals.
  • It can convey a complex message which can be reinforced with pictures if the recipient is illiterate.
  • They then used brain imaging to find the ways in which literate and illiterate brains differ.
  • It describes how street songs mobilized public opinion in a largely illiterate society.
  • In a real democracy, illiterate and under-educated people voting is an undesirable phenomenon.
British Dictionary definitions for illiterate


unable to read and write
violating accepted standards in reading and writing: an illiterate scrawl
uneducated, ignorant, or uncultured: scientifically illiterate
an illiterate person
Derived Forms
illiteracy, illiterateness, noun
illiterately, adverb
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
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Word Origin and History for illiterate

early 15c., "uneducated, unable to read (originally of Latin)," from Latin illiteratus "unlearned, unlettered, ignorant; without culture, inelegant," from assimilated form of in- "not, opposite of" (see in- (1)) + literatus, literally "furnished with letters" (see literate). As a noun meaning "illiterate person" from 1620s. Hence, illiterati (1788).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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