Definition of liberal in English:



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

    ‘liberal views towards divorce’
    • ‘Who will defend liberal ideas against the enemy of liberal ideas?’
    • ‘Western countries pride themselves on their supposedly liberal acceptance of different cultures.’
    • ‘His liberal family accepted his homosexuality.’
    • ‘It's not a liberal idea that will cause the ruination of civilization.’
    • ‘He's too liberal on social issues and his name sends minority communities into a rage.’
    • ‘A deepening conflict between the liberal intelligentsia and the government has developed over the last several years.’
    • ‘They tend to be more liberal on social issues.’
    • ‘I think that these kinds of liberal ideas are pervasive in Western societies.’
    • ‘The result: a man with some very liberal ideas, such as nationalized healthcare, won.’
    • ‘Why do liberal ideas often connect to unhappiness?’
    • ‘In spite of all experience they hoped that Prussia was more open to liberal ideas than Austria.’
    • ‘Friends and family call me liberal, but that's not entirely true.’
    • ‘My parents are very liberal and open so we'll be fine.’
    • ‘I think it is even more important than ever that the open, generous, liberal view have a responsible and regular voice.’
    • ‘That we shouldn't meddle in other countries if our own country needs work is also a liberal idea.’
    unbiased, unprejudiced, prejudice-free, accepting, non-partisan, neutral, non-aligned, non-judgemental, non-discriminatory, anti-discrimination, objective, disinterested, dispassionate, detached
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    1. 1.1 Favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms.
      ‘liberal citizenship laws’
      • ‘The liberal state should be neutral towards people's ethical ideas.’
      • ‘However, the country is rich in natural resources and has liberal foreign investment laws.’
      • ‘French archival laws became more liberal after 1975, and historians were less prone to see their task as glorifying the Resistance.’
      • ‘In contrast, countries like the UK and the Netherlands have always enjoyed liberal laws relating to the content of vitamins, with few restrictions.’
      • ‘New Zealand law has taken a very liberal approach to dual citizenship, particularly since 1977.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘If that narrow path is crossed carefully, Turkey could eventually be a more open, more liberal society.’
      • ‘If New Zealand's liberal media ownership laws have a virtue, it's that of simplicity.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Accordingly, the calling to account of ministers in the Chamber was authorized in 1867 and a liberal press law was passed in 1868.’
      • ‘Look at Ireland and Scotland and their liberal liquor laws - drunks rage all night.’
      • ‘They dream of a better life in Britain, where immigration laws are relatively liberal and they have an easier path to becoming legal residents.’
      • ‘Crime rates here are comparable to, and in many cases lower than, those in countries with liberal gun laws.’
      • ‘It would seem that we are, unless we can change the liberal laws of our country.’
      • ‘Freedom and a liberal society was redeemed for some but not all.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘It is still, by world standards, a free, open, liberal society.’
      • ‘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.’
      tolerant, unprejudiced, unbigoted, broad-minded, open-minded, enlightened, forbearing
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    2. 1.2 (in a political context) favouring individual liberty, free trade, and moderate political and social reform.
      ‘a liberal democratic state’
      • ‘Its own steady drift to the right over the last quarter-century mirrors the breakdown of the objective basis in the United States for a program of liberal social reform.’
      • ‘In liberal democracies, most political participation stems from the initiatives of individuals or of institutions that are not formally part of government.’
      • ‘The next major burst of policy activity came three decades later as America entered a period of liberal progressive politics.’
      • ‘The first is the centrality of liberal democracy to contemporary political philosophy.’
      • ‘It goes beyond this of course, and makes arguments and is at home in liberal democratic politics.’
      • ‘Second is the fact that liberal democracy could not flourish without modern science and technology.’
      • ‘If one is to be truly for liberal government and social democracy, then you must be for these things abroad as well as at home.’
      • ‘In many respects it is conducted in more earnest, for higher stakes, and against greater odds than political life in liberal democracies.’
      • ‘Politicians in modern liberal democracies confidently expect to die in bed.’
      • ‘The Democrats have abandoned any policy of liberal social reform and adapted themselves, in deeds if not in words, to the class-war policies of the Republicans.’
      • ‘This trend is scarring the social landscape of every liberal democracy, and it doesn't only hit us on the roads.’
      • ‘It has, in the intervening period, abandoned its residual ties to liberal reformism and any genuine defense of democratic rights.’
      • ‘Different historical and social contexts have shaped the political goals of liberal socialism.’
      • ‘It comes from a deep-seated conviction that there is only one economic system, the globalised free market, set in the political context of liberal democracy.’
      • ‘As unyielding as any of the cold war communist regimes, it is neither economically liberal nor politically democratic, but has ruled for all but one of the past 46 years.’
      • ‘Republican liberalism is built on the claim that liberal democracies are more peaceful and law-abiding than are other political systems.’
      • ‘Social reformism within a liberal democratic framework is apparently just one more snare in the mechanism of domination.’
      • ‘In the context of a liberal democratic society, this is a preferred approach to either party having a monopoly of power or the government regulating all aspects of employment.’
      • ‘This party, which long ago abandoned its past association with liberal social reforms, cannot and will not defend the programs it once championed.’
      • ‘If the book gets bogged down occasionally in its liberal social, political, economic, etc discourse, it can be forgiven.’
      progressive, advanced, modern, forward-looking, forward-thinking, progressivist, go-ahead, enlightened, reformist, radical
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    3. 1.3 Relating to Liberals or a Liberal Party, especially (in the UK) relating to the Liberal Democrat party.
      ‘the Liberal leader’
      • ‘Someone said that the last five Liberal leaders in New South Wales have been Catholics.’
      • ‘You have to go back to before the First World War when the then Liberal party held the reins of power in the city.’
      • ‘No, both the Labor and Liberal Parties have always used their patronage system to sometimes stack the board with party political hacks.’
      • ‘If you're in a safe Labor or safe Liberal seat, you'll get nothing.’
      • ‘Progress will depend on the city's new Liberal Democrat leaders who are not yet in a position to respond.’
    4. 1.4Theology Regarding many traditional beliefs as dispensable, invalidated by modern thought, or liable to change.
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘These similarities notwithstanding, liberal Catholicism and Modern Orthodoxy seem to be currently facing two different fates.’
      • ‘In this regard then, post-Christian liberal religion is at odds with peace and justice movements that struggle to remain Christian.’
      • ‘Others who had found that church too theologically liberal for their tastes espoused a more traditional theology.’
  • 2attributive (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’
    • ‘In other words, teacher trainees must acquire knowledge of subject matter, as well as a general liberal education.’
    • ‘Some standards are more explicit than others, but efforts are underway to enhance the relationship between professional and liberal education.’
    • ‘The availability of a liberal education curriculum by itself is unlikely to stem the tide of technical training.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Those are precisely the skills taught by liberal education.’
    • ‘However, a number of studies have suggested that both professional education and liberal education can profit from integration.’
    • ‘College presidents mobilize to promote liberal education for all students.’
    • ‘Learning communities can bring general education, liberal education, and, sometimes, the major together.’
    • ‘New technologies offer rich opportunities for enhancing the skills that liberal education seeks to develop.’
    • ‘The need for such programs could be diminished if more high school graduates were better prepared for college and a liberal education.’
    • ‘Growing numbers of college students, however, never experience the richness of a liberal education.’
    • ‘I have been wondering how to view this broader version of time management as part of a liberal education.’
    • ‘The academy is reinventing the practice of liberal education - but seems bent on ensuring that no one knows.’
    • ‘Specifically, the annual meeting believes it important to state the values of a liberal education for all students and for society at large.’
    • ‘The notion of integrating the goals of liberal education into students' majors was taken seriously.’
    • ‘A quality liberal education leads students to reflect on their place in the world and locate themselves historically and socially.’
    • ‘The history of higher education teaches us that liberal education is inextricably intertwined with normative goals.’
    • ‘Interdisciplinarity and community are critical elements of this learning community's notion of liberal education.’
    • ‘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.’
    wide-ranging, broad-based, general, humanistic
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  • 3(especially of an interpretation of a law) broadly construed or understood; not strictly literal.

    ‘they could have given the 1968 Act a more liberal interpretation’
    • ‘Pope John Paul's papacy has been marked by his attempt to maintain the traditionalist wing of the Church while rejecting more liberal interpretations.’
    • ‘Based purely on a regulation about religious cults, some officials began to offer liberal interpretations.’
    • ‘This subsection must be given a large and liberal interpretation to achieve the overall purpose of the Rules.’
    • ‘Similarly, Dutch courts have placed a liberal interpretation on Dutch legislative provisions on jurisdiction over war crimes.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The liberal interpretation could be demonstrated by an overview and then by explaining selective examples.’
    • ‘Ms. Landolt suggests that such liberal interpretations of the Charter's freedom of expression guarantees give licence to extreme social deviance.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘The other regional accrediting associations that were reviewed have faculty guidelines that could have a more liberal interpretation.’
    • ‘Statutes providing such benefits are to be given a liberal interpretation so as to achieve their objective.’
    • ‘It seemed a liberal interpretation of the term ‘cosmopolitan’ - but then that's rural living for you.’
    • ‘These are liberal interpretations of the text to be sure.’
    • ‘This is a much more liberal interpretation of success.’
    • ‘This last qualification allowed a liberal interpretation of the system.’
    • ‘We will often give very liberal interpretations to vague or inconsistent claims about ourselves in order to make sense out of the claims.’
    • ‘Many activists of the sharia movement in economic discourse and activities are also against a liberal interpretation of Islam.’
    • ‘Although there is a reluctance to admit it, the liberal interpretation is largely confessional and pastoral in its tone and direction.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘For the purpose of combining crosses we recommend liberal interpretation of this test and careful attention to other sources of evidence.’
    flexible, broad, loose, rough, non-restrictive, free, general, non-literal, non-specific, not literal, not strict, not close
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  • 4Given, used, or occurring in generous amounts.

    ‘liberal amounts of wine had been consumed’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘If circumstances allow, at a party or ceremony, grilled chicken, soft drinks, and bottled beer are served and consumed in liberal amounts.’
    • ‘Remove to a large oven tray, and add liberal amounts of good olive oil and sea salt.’
    • ‘Then you want a nice mayo, white vinegar, relish base, with liberal amounts of pepper, some salt and paprika.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Another excellent combination is with sushi, especially if you like a liberal amount of wasabi with your fish.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Wide windows stared out across the porch into the street, and, in return, brought in liberal amounts of the clear autumn sunshine.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Elaine poured out a liberal amount of brandy to warm him.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Current tradition requires dousing the beast in a liberal amount of whisky while accompanying it with an even larger measure.’
    • ‘She poured a liberal amount over her cereal, and then began to eat.’
    • ‘Sprinkle a liberal amount over dry carpeting or upholstery, making sure the item is covered with a thin layer of baking soda.’
    • ‘This early stage of the diet allows liberal amounts of fat and protein, and only twenty grams of carbohydrates per day.’
    • ‘There was also a liberal amount of calamari, but mostly just legs that weren't that appealing to chase around with a fork.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    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’
      • ‘Ellis was liberal with the fiction and facts in his new novel.’
      • ‘He was very liberal when it came to buying drinks, and in return I was a friend to him.’
      • ‘He was even liberal in dishing out helpings for Natalia.’
      • ‘Their son was particularly concerned that we bless the space under his bed, so I was liberal with the holy water for his sake.’
      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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  • 1A person of liberal views.

    ‘a concern among liberals about the relation of the citizen to the state’
    • ‘We liberals tend to get awfully paranoid about these coincidences, don't we?’
    • ‘Bleeding heart liberals have said the new regulations will deny free speech.’
    • ‘You don't have to be a so-called bleeding-heart liberal or a low-income worker to worry about inequality.’
    • ‘They say the very thing that social liberals want to hear.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Today's liberals have a naive overconfidence in seemingly easy, scientific answers to social problems.’
    • ‘I think most liberals really do oppose the war.’
    • ‘Extreme liberals tend to be those who have not found rules at all congenial.’
    • ‘Now I surely disagree with most liberals on many specific moral issues.’
    • ‘From being radical liberals they now became national socialists.’
    • ‘Nobody ever accused Ronald Reagan of being a bleeding-heart liberal.’
    • ‘His embrace of the doctrine of zero tolerance, however, infuriates liberals.’
    • ‘Leftists and liberals find this turn of events an indication of bad days to come.’
    • ‘He didn't leave behind a platform with which the moderate liberals could identify.’
    • ‘The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards.’
    • ‘Many economic liberals have an optimistic view of economic globalization.’
    • ‘The mania about guns emanating from America's white middle-class liberals seems peculiarly off-base to me.’
    • ‘How could he be defended in the pages of our press by supposed liberals and left-wingers?’
    • ‘Classical liberals believe that the precautions and warfare are necessary to protect the bubble.’
    1. 1.1 A supporter or member of a Liberal Party, especially (in the UK) a Liberal Democrat.
      • ‘That's what their forefathers did when they broke from the Liberals over 100 years ago.’
      • ‘Churchill allegedly made his move to the Liberals on the issue of free trade.’
      • ‘The ruling Liberals remained the largest party but lost a lot of support.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘In response to this campaign, the Liberals have scuttled still further to the right.’
      • ‘The federal Liberals have taken wasting the public's money to a whole new level.’
      • ‘The pamphlet concluded with an appeal for voters to place the Liberals last in the election.’
      • ‘The Tories and Liberals were easily beaten into third and fourth places.’
      • ‘I think giving the Liberals a chance would be healthy - it has been in the Scottish parliament.’
      • ‘At the time, the Liberals pledged to make health and education spending a priority.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘To essentially claim that he is no better than the Liberals or Tories is plain sectarianism.’
      • ‘A vote for Plaid or the Liberals could let the Tories in by the back door.’
      • ‘Council tax has gone up because of the appalling mess the Tories and Liberals are making of running the council.’
      • ‘She lost her deposit, as did many hundreds of Liberals in that election.’
      • ‘The Liberals were, at the time, the party to which many radicals looked when it came to elections.’
      • ‘It's about using fear and xenophobia as a tool to scare people into voting for the Liberals at the next election.’
      • ‘Is Labor seriously making common cause with the Liberals to subvert the rule of law?’


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).