Definition of illiterate in English:

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Pronunciation: /i(l)ˈlidərət/


1Unable to read or write: his parents were illiterate
More example sentences
  • In Uganda, among those aged fifteen years and over, about 50 percent are illiterate (unable to read or write).
  • Children were not allowed to attend public schools and many were illiterate; reading and writing being ‘unnatural’ technologies that would corrupt the children.
  • In addition, many South Africans were illiterate, and unable to read news reports of proceedings.
unable to read or write, unlettered
1.1 [with submodifier] Ignorant in a particular subject or activity: the extent to which voters are politically illiterate
More example sentences
  • Couple a scientifically illiterate public with activist groups well-versed in scare tactics and what do you get?
  • Indeed, as I have wondered elsewhere, how long will Americans endure the arrogance and ignorance of their own technically illiterate politicians?
  • That they were able to do so handily and with a backward and politically illiterate film star as their standard bearer only underscores the dimensions of the Democratic collapse.
ignorant, unknowledgeable, unenlightened, uneducated, unschooled, untaught, untutored, untrained, uninstructed, uninformed, unread, unlearned
informal clueless
literary nescient
1.2Uncultured or poorly educated: the ignorant, illiterate town council
More example sentences
  • Such a defence is offered only to hoodwink the gullible, illiterate and ignorant millions.
  • We keep them in power, and they keep us illiterate, ignorant and prolific.
  • It preys on the ignorant, the illiterate, the gullible, and the meek.
1.3(Especially of a piece of writing) showing a lack of education, especially an inability to read or write well.
Example sentences
  • Then he disparaged my writing for being too illiterate for some but too literate for others.
  • Even in 1935 they were being sent an ‘astonishing amount of illiterate and unintelligent writing’, but practised readers spent little time on it.
  • Is it any wonder that our K - 12 education system is in such bad shape when such an illiterate, antiquated report has been circulated and used for more than a decade?


A person who is unable to read or write.
Example sentences
  • This reminds me of a quote from Italo Calvino (who was most certainly literate): ‘The ratio of literacy to illiteracy is constant, but now the illiterates can read.’
  • Without history you find yourself like illiterates who can't read the present.
  • The Merovingian kings were not boorish illiterates, but were able to read and write.


functionally illiterate

Lacking the literacy necessary for coping with most jobs and many everyday situations.
Example sentences
  • A recent video released by the American Medical Association reported that about onehalf of Americans have low health literacy and one-fifth are functionally illiterate.
  • Many were illiterate or functionally illiterate in Spanish.
  • Several of these parents were either illiterate or functionally illiterate in Spanish and did not speak English.



Example sentences
  • But, as usual, Jack displayed the irony of his many advanced education degrees and illiterately misread the map.
  • They tell their own story, simply; sometimes ungrammatically and illiterately, but nevertheless irresistibly.
  • The degree of hateful violence expressed here by the anti-hunters, albeit nearly illiterately, is frightening.


Pronunciation: /i(l)ˈlid(ə)rətnəs/
Example sentences
  • I even make fun of her illiterateness on trains.


Late Middle English: from Latin illitteratus, from in- 'not' + litteratus (see literate).

Words that rhyme with illiterate

literate, presbyterate

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: il·lit·er·ate

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