Definition of imaginary in English:



  • 1Existing only in the imagination.

    ‘Chris had imaginary conversations with her’
    • ‘The mandala represents an imaginary palace that is contemplated during meditation.’
    • ‘I bowed to an imaginary crowd and pretended to thank my parents and all who believed in me.’
    • ‘How they coped with this transfer of power is a vital part of these imaginary conversations.’
    • ‘While he talks, his feet move constantly - tapping away to an imaginary beat.’
    • ‘There exist countless instances of the type, present and past, real and imaginary, actual and potential.’
    • ‘Is an imaginary campaign manager really the worst political decision you've heard lately?’
    • ‘It lies halfway between Orkney and Shetland on an imaginary line dividing the North Sea from the North Atlantic.’
    • ‘This would mean that your imaginary satellite would need to be located out beyond all the planets, a dozen times as far away as Pluto.’
    • ‘This image is of an imaginary circle that each person draws around him/herself.’
    • ‘In the first place, the film depicts some imaginary breed of gracious and principled gangsters.’
    • ‘Don't get into obeying imaginary voices in your head or anything daft like that.’
    • ‘To escape reality, I invented an imaginary world and began writing poetry.’
    • ‘Fears of vote-tampering and vote suppression are far from exaggerated or imaginary.’
    • ‘Not only is he a modern star playing a classic star, he's playing him as an imaginary figure.’
    • ‘The only saving grace is that most children take it for granted that spirits and the like are imaginary beings.’
    • ‘The blood was fake and the flames imaginary, but the task facing the emergency services could have been very real.’
    • ‘I couldn't go into my own imaginary world far away and try to block out all of these problems.’
    • ‘The view that dreams are merely the imaginary fulfilments of repressed wishes is hopelessly out of date.’
    • ‘He invented imaginary worlds in which he was the king, and everyone had obey him.’
    • ‘These fears are mainly imaginary, and most are born of a highly developed imagination gone astray.’
    unreal, non-existent, fictional, fictitious, pretend, make-believe, mythical, mythological, legendary, storybook, fanciful, fantastic
    View synonyms
  • 2Mathematics
    (of a number or quantity) expressed in terms of the square root of a negative number (usually the square root of −1, represented by i or j)

    See also complex
    • ‘What was most perplexing was that in using these subtle and imaginary numbers it was possible to solve cubic equations.’
    • ‘It also only worked, he noted, when certain imaginary parts of two complex numbers cancelled out.’
    • ‘The idea is based on an ingenious use of the properties of imaginary numbers.’


Imaginary means ‘product of the imagination, unreal.’ Imaginative means ‘showing imagination, original.’ Science fiction, for example, deals with imaginary people, places, and events; how imaginative it is depends on the writer's ability


Late Middle English: from Latin imaginarius, from imago, imagin- ‘image’.