General English


  • Associated with freedom and/or generosity. Thus in England to be liberal (or to be a liberal) is to favor free markets, including free trade. But in the U.S. it tends to mean favoring a generous, active government pursuing social and redistributive policies, with no implication for views on free trade.


  • adjective allowing freedom to people or not controlling people
  • adjective
    (written as Liberal)
    relating to the Liberal Party in the United kingdom, Canada, or Australia
  • noun a person who believes in individual freedom and the improvement of society
  • noun
    (written as Liberal)
    a member or supporter of the Liberal Party, e.g. in the United Kingdom, Canada, or Australia
  • abbreviationLib.
    (written as Liberal)

Origin & History of “liberal”

The Latin word for ‘free’ was līber. It came from the same prehistoric source as Greek eleútheros ‘free’, which may have denoted ‘people, nation’ (in which case the underlying etymological meaning of the word would be ‘being a member of the (free) people’, as opposed to ‘being a slave’). From līber was derived līberālis ‘of freedom’, which passed into English via Old French liberal. Its earliest English meanings were ‘generous’ and ‘appropriate to the cultural pursuits of a ‘free’ man’ (as in ‘the liberal arts’). The connotations of ‘tolerance’ and ‘lack of prejudice’ did not emerge until the 18th century, and the word’s use as a designation of a particular political party in Britain dates from the early 19th century.

Also from Latin līber come English libertine (14th c.) and liberty (14th c.).