a. Able to read and write.
b. Knowledgeable or educated in a particular field or fields.
2. Familiar with literature; literary.
3. Well-written; polished: a literate essay.
1. A person who is literate.
2. (used with a pl. verb) People who are literate, considered as a group.
[Middle English litterate, from Latin litterātus, from littera, lītera, letter; see LETTER.]
Usage Note: For most of its long history in English, literate has meant only "familiar with literature," or more generally, "well-educated, learned." Only since the late 1800s has it also come to refer to the basic ability to read and write. Its antonym illiterate has an equally broad range of meanings: an illiterate person may be incapable of reading a shopping list or uneducated in a particular field. The term functional illiterate is often used to describe a person who can read or write to some degree but below a minimum level required to function in even a limited social situation or job setting. An aliterate person, by contrast, is one who is capable of reading and writing but who has little interest in doing so, whether out of indifference to learning in general or from a preference for seeking information and entertainment by other means. The meanings of the words literacy and illiteracy have been extended from their original connection with reading and literature to any body of knowledge. For example, "geographic illiterates" cannot identify the countries on a map, and "computer illiterates" are unable to operate computers effectively.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.