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

  • noun The body of written works of a language, period, or culture.
  • noun Imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value.
  • noun The art or occupation of a literary writer.
  • noun The body of written work produced by scholars or researchers in a given field.
  • noun Printed material.
  • noun Music All the compositions of a certain kind or for a specific instrument or ensemble.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun Specifically. In scientific usage, the body of monographs, original papers, etc., dealing with a particular topic: as, the literature of the scale-insects and mealy bugs; the literature of the reaction experiment.
  • noun Printed matter of any kind intended for circulation, as the circulars and pamphlets of a political party, of an insurance company, or of a quack advertiser.
  • noun Learning; instruction in letters.
  • noun The use of letters for the promulgation of thought or knowledge; the communication of facts, ideas, or emotions by means of books or other modes of publication; literary work or production: as, the profession of literature.
  • noun Recorded thought or knowledge; the aggregate of books and other publications, in either an unlimited or a limited sense; the collective body of literary productions in general, or within a particular sphere, period, country, language, etc.: as, the literature of a science, art, or profession; Greek, Roman, or Elizabethan literature.
  • noun In a restricted sense, the class of writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, romance, history, biography, and essays, in contradistinction to scientific works, or those written expressly to impart knowledge.
  • noun Synonyms Literature, Learning, Scholarship, Erudition, Lore. Literature, the more polished or artistic class of written compositions, or the critical knowledge or appreciation of them; learning, large knowledge acquired by study, especially in the literature, history, or the like, of the past; scholarship, learning viewed as the possession of a professional or amateur scholar or student; erudition, scholastic or the more recondite sort of knowledge obtained by profound research; lore, a rather poetic word for erudition, often in a special department: as, versed in the lore of magic.

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

  • noun Learning; acquaintance with letters or books.
  • noun The collective body of literary productions, embracing the entire results of knowledge and fancy preserved in writing; also, the whole body of literary productions or writings upon a given subject, or in reference to a particular science or branch of knowledge, or of a given country or period
  • noun The class of writings distinguished for beauty of style or expression, as poetry, essays, or history, in distinction from scientific treatises and works which contain positive knowledge; belles-lettres.
  • noun The occupation, profession, or business of doing literary work.

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

  • noun The body of all written works.
  • noun The collected creative writing of a nation, people, group, or culture.
  • noun All the papers, treatises, etc. published in academic journals on a particular subject.
  • noun Written fiction of a high standard.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun published writings in a particular style on a particular subject
  • noun the humanistic study of a body of literature
  • noun the profession or art of a writer
  • noun creative writing of recognized artistic value


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

[Middle English, book learning, from Old French litterature, from Latin litterātūra, from litterātus, lettered; see literate.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Latin literatura or litteratura.


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



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

  • Sadly debased to include things like sales literature, technical literature and more or less anything you can get printed that isn't literature. Makes my blood boil literally.

    December 14, 2007

  • Or perhaps figuratively?

    December 14, 2007