Definition of liberal in English:


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  • 1Willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one's own; open to new ideas.

    ‘they have more liberal views toward marriage and divorce than some people’
    • ‘Most of my co-workers are very liberal.’
    • ‘ I am very liberal in many ways.’
    • ‘They liked much about him - from his focus on the environment to his seemingly liberal views on issues like gay marriage.’
    • ‘I think that these kinds of liberal ideas are pervasive in Western societies.’
    • ‘It 's a very liberal and accepting neighborhood.’
    • ‘My parents are very liberal and open so we'll be fine.’
    • ‘Friends and family call me liberal, but that's not entirely true.’
    • ‘They tend to be more liberal on social issues.’
    • ‘Fortunately , I have a liberal family that does support me.’
    • ‘They fancied themselves quite liberal and open in their world views.’
    tolerant, unprejudiced, unbigoted, broad-minded, open-minded, enlightened, forbearing
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    1. 1.1(in a political context) favoring policies that are socially progressive and promote social welfare.
      Often contrasted with conservative (sense 2 of the adjective)
      ‘they favor liberal ideologies over conservative ones’
      • ‘This party, which long ago abandoned its past association with liberal social reforms, cannot and will not defend the programs it once championed.’
      • ‘He felt sympathetic toward a society that seemed to reflect the liberal political ideas he had studied as a graduate student.’
      • ‘Which of his liberal policies do you take issue with?’
      progressive, forward-looking, forward-thinking, progressivist, go-ahead, enlightened, reformist, radical, freethinking
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    2. 1.2Theology Regarding many traditional beliefs as dispensable, invalidated by modern thought, or liable to change.
      ‘Others who had found that church too theologically liberal for their tastes espoused a more traditional theology.’
      • ‘In this regard then, post-Christian liberal religion is at odds with peace and justice movements that struggle to remain Christian.’
      • ‘These similarities notwithstanding, liberal Catholicism and Modern Orthodoxy seem to be currently facing two different fates.’
      • ‘Wilson himself focuses on two options that thrived during the modern period: liberal Protestantism and Catholic modernism.’
      • ‘Modern liberal seekers found him unnecessarily complicated or downbeat, while Christians found his theology thin and secular.’
  • 2Relating to or denoting a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.

    ‘a liberal democratic state’
    • ‘Crime rates here are comparable to, and in many cases lower than, those in countries with liberal gun laws.’
    • ‘Freedom and a liberal society was redeemed for some but not all.’
    • ‘If New Zealand's liberal media ownership laws have a virtue, it's that of simplicity.’
    • ‘However, the country is rich in natural resources and has liberal foreign investment laws.’
    • ‘It would seem that we are, unless we can change the liberal laws of our country.’
    • ‘New Zealand law has taken a very liberal approach to dual citizenship, particularly since 1977.’
    • ‘The New Jersey Restaurant Association earlier this summer reported a surge in business as smokers travelled across from New York to avail of its more liberal laws.’
    • ‘Our state will be a shining beacon of liberal freedom, where anyone and everyone will have the right to live any way they want, and believe whatever they want.’
    • ‘In contrast, countries like the UK and the Netherlands have always enjoyed liberal laws relating to the content of vitamins, with few restrictions.’
    • ‘Accordingly, the calling to account of ministers in the Chamber was authorized in 1867 and a liberal press law was passed in 1868.’
    • ‘French archival laws became more liberal after 1975, and historians were less prone to see their task as glorifying the Resistance.’
    • ‘We ought to remember that Thai immigration laws are actually very liberal.’
    • ‘The Mises Institute is located in Alabama, a state blessed with very liberal gun laws.’
    • ‘They dream of a better life in Britain, where immigration laws are relatively liberal and they have an easier path to becoming legal residents.’
    • ‘The biggest complaint, a problem the U.S. has been pushing to address, is forced overtime in defiance of what is, on paper, a liberal Cambodian labor law.’
    • ‘The government encourages the existence of charitable NGOs through tax exemptions and liberal laws of association and incorporation.’
    • ‘The liberal state should be neutral towards people's ethical ideas.’
    • ‘It is still, by world standards, a free, open, liberal society.’
    • ‘If that narrow path is crossed carefully, Turkey could eventually be a more open, more liberal society.’
    progressive, forward-looking, forward-thinking, progressivist, go-ahead, enlightened, reformist, radical, freethinking
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  • 3

    (also Liberal)
    Relating to a Liberal party or (in the UK) the Liberal Democrat Party.

    ‘the Liberal leader’
    • ‘No, both the Labor and Liberal Parties have always used their patronage system to sometimes stack the board with party political hacks.’
    • ‘You have to go back to before the First World War when the then Liberal party held the reins of power in the city.’
    • ‘If you're in a safe Labor or safe Liberal seat, you'll get nothing.’
    • ‘Someone said that the last five Liberal leaders in New South Wales have been Catholics.’
    • ‘Progress will depend on the city's new Liberal Democrat leaders who are not yet in a position to respond.’
  • 4Given, used, or occurring in generous amounts.

    ‘liberal amounts of wine had been consumed’
    • ‘Garden ponds won't count, though, so if you have a swimming pool, fill it with water lilies and goldfish, take down the diving board and apply liberal amounts of weed and reeds until he has gone.’
    • ‘Then you want a nice mayo, white vinegar, relish base, with liberal amounts of pepper, some salt and paprika.’
    • ‘There was also a liberal amount of calamari, but mostly just legs that weren't that appealing to chase around with a fork.’
    • ‘Another excellent combination is with sushi, especially if you like a liberal amount of wasabi with your fish.’
    • ‘Remove to a large oven tray, and add liberal amounts of good olive oil and sea salt.’
    • ‘Current tradition requires dousing the beast in a liberal amount of whisky while accompanying it with an even larger measure.’
    • ‘Tips for reducing exposure to UV radiation include wearing protective clothing, applying liberal amounts of sunscreen and staying in the shade as much as possible.’
    • ‘On the floor of the first gallery, a space meant to represent aridity, would be a few shallow pools of oil, small amounts of glass and liberal sprinklings of red powder.’
    • ‘Group scout leader Ann Pope restored the mace to its former glory with liberal amounts of metal polish, furniture wax and elbow grease, and a handing-back ceremony was arranged.’
    • ‘His dirty blond hair, having been cut short three months previous, had grown out some, and the man had spiked it using the girls' hair gel in liberal amounts.’
    • ‘Elaine poured out a liberal amount of brandy to warm him.’
    • ‘Wide windows stared out across the porch into the street, and, in return, brought in liberal amounts of the clear autumn sunshine.’
    • ‘If circumstances allow, at a party or ceremony, grilled chicken, soft drinks, and bottled beer are served and consumed in liberal amounts.’
    • ‘Grate liberal amounts of Parmesan on top, making sure your eagerness doesn't cause you to scrape the tips of your fingers on your extra sharp cheese grater.’
    • ‘Water plants deeply once a week as weather heats up, and surround them with liberal amounts of mulch to shade the soil and add organic matter.’
    • ‘Note that the patient has used liberal amounts of hair gel, hair spray, and perfume, all of which act as fuel and accelerants for a fire.’
    • ‘Sprinkle a liberal amount over dry carpeting or upholstery, making sure the item is covered with a thin layer of baking soda.’
    • ‘She poured a liberal amount over her cereal, and then began to eat.’
    • ‘He ordered a cup of black coffee and a Danish, added a liberal amount of milk, then found a stool facing the boarding gates and sat down.’
    • ‘This early stage of the diet allows liberal amounts of fat and protein, and only twenty grams of carbohydrates per day.’
    abundant, copious, ample, plentiful, generous, lavish, luxuriant, profuse, considerable, prolific, rich
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    1. 4.1(of a person) giving generously.
      ‘Sam was too liberal with the wine’
      • ‘Their son was particularly concerned that we bless the space under his bed, so I was liberal with the holy water for his sake.’
      • ‘He was even liberal in dishing out helpings for Natalia.’
      • ‘He was very liberal when it came to buying drinks, and in return I was a friend to him.’
      • ‘Ellis was liberal with the fiction and facts in his new novel.’
      generous, magnanimous, open-handed, unsparing, unstinting, ungrudging, lavish, free, munificent, bountiful, beneficent, benevolent, big-hearted, kind-hearted, kind, philanthropic, charitable, altruistic, unselfish
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  • 5(of education) concerned with broadening a person's general knowledge and experience, rather than with technical or professional training.

    ‘the provision of liberal adult education’
    • ‘a liberal arts university’
    • ‘In Korea, general education, rather than liberal education, is the preferred term.’
    • ‘Community colleges offering two-year programs in liberal education and occupational training meet both of these criteria.’
    • ‘Learning communities can bring general education, liberal education, and, sometimes, the major together.’
    • ‘The availability of a liberal education curriculum by itself is unlikely to stem the tide of technical training.’
    • ‘In other words, teacher trainees must acquire knowledge of subject matter, as well as a general liberal education.’
    • ‘The need for such programs could be diminished if more high school graduates were better prepared for college and a liberal education.’
    • ‘However, a number of studies have suggested that both professional education and liberal education can profit from integration.’
    • ‘Growing numbers of college students, however, never experience the richness of a liberal education.’
    • ‘The academy is reinventing the practice of liberal education - but seems bent on ensuring that no one knows.’
    • ‘New technologies offer rich opportunities for enhancing the skills that liberal education seeks to develop.’
    • ‘College presidents mobilize to promote liberal education for all students.’
    • ‘Our responsibility is to preserve and protect liberal education for those students who come to us in the trust that education can change lives of base metal into gold.’
    • ‘A quality liberal education leads students to reflect on their place in the world and locate themselves historically and socially.’
    • ‘Specifically, the annual meeting believes it important to state the values of a liberal education for all students and for society at large.’
    • ‘Those are precisely the skills taught by liberal education.’
    • ‘The history of higher education teaches us that liberal education is inextricably intertwined with normative goals.’
    • ‘The notion of integrating the goals of liberal education into students' majors was taken seriously.’
    • ‘Some standards are more explicit than others, but efforts are underway to enhance the relationship between professional and liberal education.’
    • ‘I have been wondering how to view this broader version of time management as part of a liberal education.’
    • ‘Interdisciplinarity and community are critical elements of this learning community's notion of liberal education.’
    wide-ranging, broad-based, general, humanistic
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  • 6(especially of an interpretation of a law) broadly construed or understood; not strictly literal or exact.

    ‘they could have given the 1968 Act a more liberal interpretation’
    • ‘Dr Javaid Iqbal, in the end, approves of the Sufis' liberal interpretation of Islam, which helped poetry, music and dance to find a place in Muslim culture.’
    • ‘It seemed a liberal interpretation of the term ‘cosmopolitan’ - but then that's rural living for you.’
    • ‘Based purely on a regulation about religious cults, some officials began to offer liberal interpretations.’
    • ‘Pope John Paul's papacy has been marked by his attempt to maintain the traditionalist wing of the Church while rejecting more liberal interpretations.’
    • ‘Ms. Landolt suggests that such liberal interpretations of the Charter's freedom of expression guarantees give licence to extreme social deviance.’
    • ‘The other regional accrediting associations that were reviewed have faculty guidelines that could have a more liberal interpretation.’
    • ‘This is a much more liberal interpretation of success.’
    • ‘For the purpose of combining crosses we recommend liberal interpretation of this test and careful attention to other sources of evidence.’
    • ‘Similarly, Dutch courts have placed a liberal interpretation on Dutch legislative provisions on jurisdiction over war crimes.’
    • ‘This last qualification allowed a liberal interpretation of the system.’
    • ‘Although there is a reluctance to admit it, the liberal interpretation is largely confessional and pastoral in its tone and direction.’
    • ‘These are liberal interpretations of the text to be sure.’
    • ‘This subsection must be given a large and liberal interpretation to achieve the overall purpose of the Rules.’
    • ‘Statutes providing such benefits are to be given a liberal interpretation so as to achieve their objective.’
    • ‘The liberal interpretation could be demonstrated by an overview and then by explaining selective examples.’
    • ‘Legally this was accommodated by the relevant regulators adopting a more liberal interpretation of the legislation, and to some extent through judicial approval of those decisions.’
    • ‘We will often give very liberal interpretations to vague or inconsistent claims about ourselves in order to make sense out of the claims.’
    • ‘Winning the appreciation of an orthodox audience, with a liberal interpretation of a traditional play, is next to impossible.’
    • ‘There are also divisions between those who interpret the Qur'an literally and those who are more liberal in its interpretation.’
    flexible, broad, loose, rough, non-restrictive, free, general, non-literal, non-specific, not literal, not strict, not close
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/ˈlib(ə)rəl/ /ˈlɪb(ə)rəl/


  • 1A supporter of policies that are socially progressive and promote social welfare.

    Often contrasted with conservative (noun)

    ‘are we dealing with a polarization between liberals and conservatives?’
    • ‘she dissented from the decision, joined by the court's liberals’
    • ‘Many economic liberals have an optimistic view of economic globalization.’
    • ‘Leftists and liberals find this turn of events an indication of bad days to come.’
    • ‘How could he be defended in the pages of our press by supposed liberals and left-wingers?’
    • ‘For liberals to make such arguments effectively, they must first take back their movement from the softs.’
    • ‘Worst of all, though, are well-meaning liberals who assist in this subterfuge.’
    • ‘His embrace of the doctrine of zero tolerance, however, infuriates liberals.’
    • ‘You don't have to be a so-called bleeding-heart liberal or a low-income worker to worry about inequality.’
    • ‘Bleeding heart liberals have said the new regulations will deny free speech.’
    • ‘The mania about guns emanating from America's white middle-class liberals seems peculiarly off-base to me.’
    • ‘Nobody ever accused Ronald Reagan of being a bleeding-heart liberal.’
    • ‘I think most liberals really do oppose the war.’
    • ‘Classical liberals believe that the precautions and warfare are necessary to protect the bubble.’
    • ‘Today's liberals have a naive overconfidence in seemingly easy, scientific answers to social problems.’
    • ‘They say the very thing that social liberals want to hear.’
    • ‘From being radical liberals they now became national socialists.’
    • ‘The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards.’
    • ‘Extreme liberals tend to be those who have not found rules at all congenial.’
    • ‘We liberals tend to get awfully paranoid about these coincidences, don't we?’
    • ‘Now I surely disagree with most liberals on many specific moral issues.’
    • ‘He didn't leave behind a platform with which the moderate liberals could identify.’
  • 2A supporter of a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.

    • ‘classical liberals emphasized the right of the individual to make decisions, even if the results dismayed their neighbors or injured themselves’
  • 3

    (also Liberal)
    A supporter or member of a Liberal party or (in the UK) the Liberal Democrat Party.

    ‘the Liberals are looking to defend a seat in Tuebrook and Stoneycroft’
    • ‘To essentially claim that he is no better than the Liberals or Tories is plain sectarianism.’
    • ‘The Tories and Liberals were easily beaten into third and fourth places.’
    • ‘The Liberals said they were opposed to the war but supported it once it began.’
    • ‘The Liberals opposed the increase in the national minimum wage to just £4.85 an hour.’
    • ‘I think giving the Liberals a chance would be healthy - it has been in the Scottish parliament.’
    • ‘In response to this campaign, the Liberals have scuttled still further to the right.’
    • ‘The pamphlet concluded with an appeal for voters to place the Liberals last in the election.’
    • ‘That's what their forefathers did when they broke from the Liberals over 100 years ago.’
    • ‘At the time, the Liberals pledged to make health and education spending a priority.’
    • ‘It's about using fear and xenophobia as a tool to scare people into voting for the Liberals at the next election.’
    • ‘The ruling Liberals remained the largest party but lost a lot of support.’
    • ‘The Liberals were, at the time, the party to which many radicals looked when it came to elections.’
    • ‘Is Labor seriously making common cause with the Liberals to subvert the rule of law?’
    • ‘Council tax has gone up because of the appalling mess the Tories and Liberals are making of running the council.’
    • ‘A vote for Plaid or the Liberals could let the Tories in by the back door.’
    • ‘It ensures that Labor will not be socialist and that the Liberals will not be liberal.’
    • ‘It will be a tragedy if the Liberals continue to be the main beneficiaries of this.’
    • ‘The federal Liberals have taken wasting the public's money to a whole new level.’
    • ‘Churchill allegedly made his move to the Liberals on the issue of free trade.’
    • ‘She lost her deposit, as did many hundreds of Liberals in that election.’



/ˈlib(ə)rəl/ /ˈlɪb(ə)rəl/


Middle English via Old French from Latin liberalis, from liber ‘free (man)’. The original sense was ‘suitable for a free man’, hence ‘suitable for a gentleman’ (one not tied to a trade), surviving in liberal arts. Another early sense ‘generous’ (compare with liberal (sense 4 of the adjective)) gave rise to an obsolete meaning ‘free from restraint’, leading to liberal (sense 1 of the adjective) (late 18th century).