from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun The condition of being free from confinement, servitude, or forced labor.
  • noun The condition of being free from oppressive restriction or control by a government or other power.
  • noun A right to engage in certain actions without control or interference by a government or other power.
  • noun The right or power to act as one chooses.
  • noun A deliberate departure from what is proper, accepted, or prudent, especially.
  • noun A breach or overstepping of propriety or social convention.
  • noun A departure from strict compliance.
  • noun A deviation from accepted truth or known fact.
  • noun An unwarranted risk; a chance.
  • noun A period, usually short, during which a sailor is authorized to go ashore.
  • idiom (at liberty) Not in confinement or under constraint; free.
  • idiom (at liberty) Entitled or permitted to do something.
  • idiom (take the liberty) To dare (to do something) on one's own initiative or without asking permission.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun The state of being free, or exempt from external restraint or constraint, physical or moral; freedom; especially, exemption from opposition or irksome restraint of any kind.
  • noun Specifically Freedom of the will; the power of election or free choice, undetermined by any necessity; exemption from internal compulsion or restraint in willing or volition.
  • noun The condition of being exempt, as a community or an individual, from foreign or arbitrary political control; a condition of political self-government.
  • noun In law, freedom from all restraints except such as the lawful rights of others prescribe.—
  • noun Permission granted, as by a superior, to do something that one might not otherwise do; leave; specifically, permission granted to enlisted men in the navy to go on shore. Compare liberty-man.
  • noun Immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant; privilege; exemption; franchise: as, the liberties of the commercial cities of Europe.
  • noun A place or district within which certain special privileges may be exercised; the limits within which freedom is enjoyed by those entitled to it; a place of exclusive jurisdiction: generally in the plural: as, the liberties of a prison (the limits within which prisoners are free to move); within the city liberty; the Northern Liberties (a part of Philadelphia so named because originally consisting of districts having certain specific privileges).
  • noun Action or speech not warranted by custom or propriety; freedom not specially granted; freedom of action or speech beyond the ordinary bounds of civility or decorum: as, may I take the liberty of calling on you?
  • noun In the manège, a curve or arch in a horse's bit affording room for the tongue.
  • noun With freedom or power (to do something): as, he was not at liberty to disclose the secret.
  • noun Disengaged; not in use.
  • noun Synonyms Independence, etc. (see freedom); License, etc. (see leave, n.).

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun The state of a free person; exemption from subjection to the will of another claiming ownership of the person or services; freedom; -- opposed to slavery, serfdom, bondage, or subjection.
  • noun Freedom from imprisonment, bonds, or other restraint upon locomotion.
  • noun A privilege conferred by a superior power; permission granted; leave.
  • noun Privilege; exemption; franchise; immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant.
  • noun engraving The place within which certain immunities are enjoyed, or jurisdiction is exercised.
  • noun A certain amount of freedom; permission to go freely within certain limits; also, the place or limits within which such freedom is exercised.
  • noun A privilege or license in violation of the laws of etiquette or propriety.
  • noun The power of choice; freedom from necessity; freedom from compulsion or constraint in willing.
  • noun (Manege) A curve or arch in a bit to afford room for the tongue of the horse.
  • noun (Naut.) Leave of absence; permission to go on shore.
  • noun At leisure.
  • noun exemption from arbitrary interference with person, opinion, or property, on the part of the government under which one lives, and freedom to take part in modifying that government or its laws.
  • noun See under Bell.
  • noun A limp, close-fitting cap with which the head of representations of the goddess of liberty is often decked. It is sometimes represented on a spear or a liberty pole.
  • noun freedom to print and publish without official supervision.
  • noun the party, in the American Revolution, which favored independence of England; in more recent usage, a party which favored the emancipation of the slaves.
  • noun [U. S.] a tall flagstaff planted in the ground, often surmounted by a liberty cap.
  • noun that liberty of choice which is essential to moral responsibility.
  • noun freedom of religious opinion and worship.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun The condition of being free from control or restrictions.
  • noun The condition of being free from imprisonment, slavery or forced labour.
  • noun The condition of being free to act, believe or express oneself as one chooses.
  • noun Freedom from excessive government control.
  • noun A short period when a sailor is allowed ashore.


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English liberte, from Old French, from Latin lībertās, from līber, free; see leudh- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English liberte, from Old French liberté, from Latin libertas ("freedom"), from liber ("free"); see liberal.


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word liberty.


  • Constitution, and this, because it is a legal rule to argue down from generals to particulars, and that the "words of a statute ought not to be interpreted to destroy natural justice;" but as Coke says, "Whenever the question of liberty runs doubtful, _the decision must be given in favor of liberty_."

    An Account of the Proceedings on the Trial of Susan B. Anthony, on the Charge of Illegal Voting Anonymous

  • The argument in question proceeds on the notion that government can restrain nothing, unless it restrain the natural liberty of mankind; whereas, we have seen, the law which forbids the perpetration of mischief, or any other wrong, is a restriction, not upon the _liberty_, but upon the _tyranny_, of the human will.

    Cotton is King, and Pro-Slavery Arguments Comprising the Writings of Hammond, Harper, Christy, Stringfellow, Hodge, Bledsoe, and Cartrwright on This Important Subject E. N. [Editor] Elliott

  • In such cases it was not religious liberty that caused the formation of new movements and new sects, but _the lack of religious liberty_.

    The Last Reformation 1913

  • And one thing hath been obtained in this treaty which never before was since the Inquisition was set up here, —that our people which trade thither have liberty of conscience, —liberty to worship in chapels of their own.

    At the Opening of Parliament Under the Protectorate 1906

  • A Negro whose soul, galling under the destroying influence of slavery, went forth a freeman, went forth not only to fight for _his_ liberty, but to give his life as an offering upon the altar of _American liberty_.

    History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens George W. Williams 1870

  • 'On my life, Stanley, I'll acquaint Mr. Wylder this evening with what you meditate, and the atrocious liberty you presume -- yes, Sir, though you are my brother, the _atrocious liberty_ you dare to take with my name -- unless you promise, upon your honour, now and here, to dismiss for ever the odious and utterly resultless scheme.'

    Wylder's Hand Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu 1843

  • Thus, a vast concern is expressed for the “liberty of the press, ” and the utmost abhorrence of its “licentiousness”: but then, by the licentiousness of the press is meant every disclosure by which any abuse is brought to light and exposed to shame—by the “liberty of the press” is meant only publications from which no such inconvenience is to be apprehended; and the fallacy consists in employing the sham approbation of liberty as a mask for the real opposition to all free discussion.

    Fallacies of Anti-Reformers 1909

  • _affirming the instinct of liberty, _ when God calls them to learn of him how _much liberty_ he gives, and _how_ he gives it, and _when_ he gives it, if they have so yielded to this law of their nature as to make them despise the word of the Lord.

    Slavery Ordained of God 1839

  • II. ii.420 (221,6) For the law of writ, and the liberty, these are the only men] All the modern editions have, _the law of_ wit, _and the liberty_; but both my old copies have, _the law of_ writ, I believe rightly.

    Notes to Shakespeare, Volume III: The Tragedies Samuel Johnson 1746

  • Since early in the twentieth century, the Court has interpreted the word liberty, which is expressly protected from interference by the federal government by the Fifth Amendment and from interference by state and local governments by the Fourteenth Amendment, to include important aspects of personal autonomy.

    The Conservative Assault on the Constitution Erwin Chemerinsky 2010


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • I remember a picture of my mother, my sister, my brother and myself taken in front of the Statue of Liberty. I was four. In order to get the entire statue in the background my father had to lie on the ground and we were standing on a bench. My mother wore the tupperware grin that was a motif of photos spanning decades. My sister looked shy and my brother bemused. I was staring into the distance because that looked bold and adventurous and four-year-olds abroad think about little else than the ease of conquering foreign lands. We climbed to the top, either before or afterwards. I can't remember.

    November 24, 2007

  • Cool story.

    I do find it sad, though, that these days the word liberty is seldom heard apart from the word statue. Once upon a time it was a pretty earth-shaking concept, and in the 21st century it has become known mainly as a tourist attraction.

    November 25, 2007