• Letter


    • RP IPA: /ˈlÉ›t.É™/
    • AusE IPA: /ˈlet.É™/
    • GenAm IPA: /ˈlÉ›t.Éš/
    • Rhymes: -É›tÉ™(r)
    • Hyphenation: let + ter

    Origin 1

    Middle English letter, lettre, from Old French letre, from Latin littera ("letter of the alphabet"; in plural, "epistle"), from Etruscan, from Ancient Greek διφθέρα (diphtherā, ""). Displaced native Middle English bocstaf, bookstave ("letter, alphabetic symbol") (from Old English bōcstæf ("alphabetic symbol, written character")), Middle English bocrune, bocroune ("letter, written character") (from Old English bōc ("book") + rūn ("letter, rune")), Middle English writrune, writroune ("letter, document") (from Old English writ ("letter, epistle") + rūn ("letter, rune")), Old English ǣrendbōc ("letter, message"), Old English ǣrendġewrit ("letter, written message").

    Full definition of letter



    (plural letters)
    1. A symbol in an alphabet.
      There are twenty-six letters in the English alphabet.
      • Bible, Luke xxiii. 38And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew.
    2. A written or printed communication, generally longer and more formal than a note.
      I wrote a letter to my sister about my life.
      • William Walsh (1662-1708)The style of letters ought to be free, easy, and natural.
      • 1922, Ben Travers, A Cuckoo in the Nest Chapter 1, He read the letter aloud. Sophia listened with the studied air of one for whom, even in these days, a title possessed some surreptitious allurement.
      • 1977, Agatha Christie, An Autobiography Chapter 4, An indulgent playmate, Grannie would lay aside the long scratchy-looking letter she was writing (heavily crossed ‘to save notepaper’) and enter into the delightful pastime of ‘a chicken from Mr Whiteley's’.
    3. Literal meaning.
      • Jeremy Taylor (1613–1677)We must observe the letter of the law, without doing violence to the reason of the law and the intention of the lawgiver.
      • Tennyson (1809-1892)I broke the letter of it to keep the sense.
      • 2009, 23 February, BBC, Euro MP expenses 'can reach £1m'Some MEPs from some countries may have pocketed £2m more than I have by observing the letter but not the spirit of the rules.
    4. plural Literature.
      Benjamin Franklin was multiskilled - a scientist, politician and a man of letters.
    5. (US, uncountable) A size of paper, 8½ in × 11 in (215.9 mm × 279.4 mm, US paper sizes rounded to the nearest 5 mm).
    6. (Canada, uncountable) A size of paper, 215 mm × 280 mm.
    7. (US, scholastic) Short for varsity letter
    8. (printing, dated) A single type; type, collectively; a style of type.
      • John Evelyn (1620-1706)Under these buildings...was the king's printing house, and that famous letter so much esteemed.


    • (written character/alphabetic symbol) bookstave

    Related terms

    Terms etymologically related to letter


    1. (transitive) to print, inscribe, or paint letters on something.
    2. (intransitive, US, scholastic) To earn a varsity letter (award).

    Origin 2



    (plural letters)
    1. One who lets, or lets out.the letter of a rooma blood-letter
    2. (archaic) One who retards or hinders.
    © Wiktionary