Guide to Literary Terms Questions and Answers

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What is the name given to a person who can't read and write?

Even though there are many words meant to depict a person who cannot read and write, one of the most popular is "illiterate." Others include, "unlettered," "unread," and "unschooled." 

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

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write7,251 answers

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While one does typically hear the word illiterate to describe an individual who can neither read nor write, there are other possibilities. I've also heard the word unlettered to describe such a person, as well as unread or unschooled. If you use a thesaurus to search for words which are similar in meaning, you might also find words like ignorant, rude, or simple. I would strongly discourage you from using these words. All of these words have incredibly negative connotations and would imply that the person who cannot read nor write is stupid, and this is an inappropriate and offensive assumption.

If someone cannot read or write, it may because they have some kind of learning difference which went undiagnosed and for which they never received assistance. In all likelihood, a person who cannot read or write has had to pretend that they, in fact, can, and such a ruse might feel both exhausting and shameful.  

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ladyvols1 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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write1,485 answers

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I believe the word you are searching for is illiterate.  The word is from the Middle English and is found in Latin as illiterates.  The word illiterate can be traced back to the 15th century and means having little or no education.  According to the dictionary it means: “unable to read or write.”  Some of the synonyms for illiterate are illiterately and illiterateness.  The condition of being illiterate causes poverty and lack of self-esteem.  At one time in our country most people were illiterate, but in the 21st Century there is no excuse for anyone to be illiterate.  It is a moral responsibility from one human being to another to make sure that people learn to at least read and write.


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taangerine | Student

An individual who is unable to read or write is referred to as illiterate. 

maria-vivanco | Student


Jyotsana | Student

The name given to a person who can't read and write is called illiterate.

nicole8923 | Student

They are to be described as illiterate 

Yojana_Thapa | Student


drastro | Student

A person who cannot read or write is defined as being illiterate.

jessica20 | Student

Do you mean illerate? it means person not having knowledge to learn, write.

Dyslexia- is developmental reading disorder.

Its a disease which makes children afarid of reading in front of crowd.


mkcapen1 | Student

A person who is unable to read or write was usually considered to be illerate.  However, it is more politically correct to state that the person is a person with disabilities in reading and writing instead of labeling the person with a name.  Since there are different reasons as to why a person might not be able to read or write, a true diagnosis would require testing.

The Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary defines Illiterate as  "1 : having little or no education; especially :unable to read or write."   The following definition is one which led to people who could not read or write as being referred to as Illiterates.