Definition of liberal in US English:



  • 1Open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.

    ‘they have more liberal views toward marriage and divorce than some people’
    • ‘Friends and family call me liberal, but that's not entirely true.’
    • ‘Why do liberal ideas often connect to unhappiness?’
    • ‘They tend to be more liberal on social issues.’
    • ‘He's too liberal on social issues and his name sends minority communities into a rage.’
    • ‘My parents are very liberal and open so we'll be fine.’
    • ‘A deepening conflict between the liberal intelligentsia and the government has developed over the last several years.’
    • ‘It's not a liberal idea that will cause the ruination of civilization.’
    • ‘The result: a man with some very liberal ideas, such as nationalized healthcare, won.’
    • ‘Western countries pride themselves on their supposedly liberal acceptance of different cultures.’
    • ‘I think it is even more important than ever that the open, generous, liberal view have a responsible and regular voice.’
    • ‘His liberal family accepted his homosexuality.’
    • ‘Who will defend liberal ideas against the enemy of liberal ideas?’
    • ‘I think that these kinds of liberal ideas are pervasive in Western societies.’
    • ‘In spite of all experience they hoped that Prussia was more open to liberal ideas than Austria.’
    • ‘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 Favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms.
      ‘liberal citizenship laws’
      • ‘However, the country is rich in natural resources and has liberal foreign investment laws.’
      • ‘If that narrow path is crossed carefully, Turkey could eventually be a more open, more liberal society.’
      • ‘New Zealand law has taken a very liberal approach to dual citizenship, particularly since 1977.’
      • ‘It would seem that we are, unless we can change the liberal laws of our country.’
      • ‘Look at Ireland and Scotland and their liberal liquor laws - drunks rage all night.’
      • ‘French archival laws became more liberal after 1975, and historians were less prone to see their task as glorifying the Resistance.’
      • ‘The Mises Institute is located in Alabama, a state blessed with very liberal gun laws.’
      • ‘The liberal state should be neutral towards people's ethical ideas.’
      • ‘It is still, by world standards, a free, open, liberal society.’
      • ‘They dream of a better life in Britain, where immigration laws are relatively liberal and they have an easier path to becoming legal residents.’
      • ‘We ought to remember that Thai immigration laws are actually very liberal.’
      • ‘Crime rates here are comparable to, and in many cases lower than, those in countries with liberal gun laws.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Freedom and a liberal society was redeemed for some but not all.’
      • ‘Accordingly, the calling to account of ministers in the Chamber was authorized in 1867 and a liberal press law was passed in 1868.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The government encourages the existence of charitable NGOs through tax exemptions and liberal laws of association and incorporation.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘In contrast, countries like the UK and the Netherlands have always enjoyed liberal laws relating to the content of vitamins, with few restrictions.’
      tolerant, unprejudiced, unbigoted, broad-minded, open-minded, enlightened, forbearing
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    2. 1.2 (in a political context) favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform.
      ‘a liberal democratic state’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Different historical and social contexts have shaped the political goals of liberal socialism.’
      • ‘This trend is scarring the social landscape of every liberal democracy, and it doesn't only hit us on the roads.’
      • ‘If the book gets bogged down occasionally in its liberal social, political, economic, etc discourse, it can be forgiven.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The next major burst of policy activity came three decades later as America entered a period of liberal progressive politics.’
      • ‘This party, which long ago abandoned its past association with liberal social reforms, cannot and will not defend the programs it once championed.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Politicians in modern liberal democracies confidently expect to die in bed.’
      • ‘It goes beyond this of course, and makes arguments and is at home in liberal democratic politics.’
      • ‘In liberal democracies, most political participation stems from the initiatives of individuals or of institutions that are not formally part of government.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Social reformism within a liberal democratic framework is apparently just one more snare in the mechanism of domination.’
      • ‘In many respects it is conducted in more earnest, for higher stakes, and against greater odds than political life in liberal democracies.’
      • ‘Republican liberalism is built on the claim that liberal democracies are more peaceful and law-abiding than are other political systems.’
      • ‘It has, in the intervening period, abandoned its residual ties to liberal reformism and any genuine defense of democratic rights.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Second is the fact that liberal democracy could not flourish without modern science and technology.’
      • ‘The first is the centrality of liberal democracy to contemporary political philosophy.’
      progressive, advanced, modern, forward-looking, forward-thinking, progressivist, go-ahead, enlightened, reformist, radical
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    3. 1.3 Of or characteristic of Liberals or a Liberal Party.
      • ‘The left often laments the ideological gulf between itself and even the most liberal Democrats in office.’
      • ‘Moreover, they tended to characterize conservative senators critically while characterizing liberal senators in flattering terms.’
      • ‘Some were outraged and maintained that Auburn had become too liberal.’
      • ‘Most liberal Democrats have never been willing to recognize that extent to which terrorism threatens this country.’
      • ‘An equally uncritical response came from liberal politicians in the Democratic Party.’
      • ‘The problem, of course, is that a wave of chaotic, uncoordinated ads funded by a variety of liberal groups interested in different issues could do nearly as much harm as good.’
      • ‘Sometimes they become conservative and sometimes they become liberal about these things.’
    4. 1.4 (in the UK) relating to the Liberal Democrat Party.
      ‘the Liberal leader’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Progress will depend on the city's new Liberal Democrat leaders who are not yet in a position to respond.’
    5. 1.5Theology 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.’
      • ‘Modern liberal seekers found him unnecessarily complicated or downbeat, while Christians found his theology thin and secular.’
      • ‘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.’
  • 2attributive (of education) concerned mainly with broadening a person's general knowledge and experience, rather than with technical or professional training.

    • ‘In Korea, general education, rather than liberal education, is the preferred term.’
    • ‘The availability of a liberal education curriculum by itself is unlikely to stem the tide of technical training.’
    • ‘Growing numbers of college students, however, never experience the richness of a liberal education.’
    • ‘College presidents mobilize to promote liberal education for all students.’
    • ‘Specifically, the annual meeting believes it important to state the values of a liberal education for all students and for society at large.’
    • ‘The need for such programs could be diminished if more high school graduates were better prepared for college and a liberal education.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘A quality liberal education leads students to reflect on their place in the world and locate themselves historically and socially.’
    • ‘Learning communities can bring general education, liberal education, and, sometimes, the major together.’
    • ‘Interdisciplinarity and community are critical elements of this learning community's notion of liberal education.’
    • ‘Community colleges offering two-year programs in liberal education and occupational training meet both of these criteria.’
    • ‘The history of higher education teaches us that liberal education is inextricably intertwined with normative goals.’
    • ‘In other words, teacher trainees must acquire knowledge of subject matter, as well as a general liberal education.’
    • ‘However, a number of studies have suggested that both professional education and liberal education can profit from integration.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Those are precisely the skills taught by liberal education.’
    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 or exact.

    ‘they could have given the 1968 Act a more liberal interpretation’
    • ‘For the purpose of combining crosses we recommend liberal interpretation of this test and careful attention to other sources of evidence.’
    • ‘Winning the appreciation of an orthodox audience, with a liberal interpretation of a traditional play, is next to impossible.’
    • ‘Based purely on a regulation about religious cults, some officials began to offer liberal interpretations.’
    • ‘This last qualification allowed a liberal interpretation of the system.’
    • ‘There are also divisions between those who interpret the Qur'an literally and those who are more liberal in its interpretation.’
    • ‘We will often give very liberal interpretations to vague or inconsistent claims about ourselves in order to make sense out of the claims.’
    • ‘This is a much more liberal interpretation of success.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘These are liberal interpretations of the text to be sure.’
    • ‘Similarly, Dutch courts have placed a liberal interpretation on Dutch legislative provisions on jurisdiction over war crimes.’
    • ‘Pope John Paul's papacy has been marked by his attempt to maintain the traditionalist wing of the Church while rejecting more liberal interpretations.’
    • ‘The other regional accrediting associations that were reviewed have faculty guidelines that could have 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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘It seemed a liberal interpretation of the term ‘cosmopolitan’ - but then that's rural living for you.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Ms. Landolt suggests that such liberal interpretations of the Charter's freedom of expression guarantees give licence to extreme social deviance.’
    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’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Elaine poured out a liberal amount of brandy to warm him.’
    • ‘Remove to a large oven tray, and add liberal amounts of good olive oil and sea salt.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Another excellent combination is with sushi, especially if you like a liberal amount of wasabi with your fish.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Then you want a nice mayo, white vinegar, relish base, with liberal amounts of pepper, some salt and paprika.’
    • ‘Wide windows stared out across the porch into the street, and, in return, brought in liberal amounts of the clear autumn sunshine.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Current tradition requires dousing the beast in a liberal amount of whisky while accompanying it with an even larger measure.’
    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.’
      • ‘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.’
      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.

    • ‘Bleeding heart liberals have said the new regulations will deny free speech.’
    • ‘Nobody ever accused Ronald Reagan of being a bleeding-heart liberal.’
    • ‘You don't have to be a so-called bleeding-heart liberal or a low-income worker to worry about inequality.’
    • ‘How could he be defended in the pages of our press by supposed liberals and left-wingers?’
    • ‘From being radical liberals they now became national socialists.’
    • ‘Now I surely disagree with most liberals on many specific moral issues.’
    • ‘Worst of all, though, are well-meaning liberals who assist in this subterfuge.’
    • ‘Classical liberals believe that the precautions and warfare are necessary to protect the bubble.’
    • ‘Many economic liberals have an optimistic view of economic globalization.’
    • ‘Extreme liberals tend to be those who have not found rules at all congenial.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Today's liberals have a naive overconfidence in seemingly easy, scientific answers to social problems.’
    • ‘The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards.’
    • ‘The mania about guns emanating from America's white middle-class liberals seems peculiarly off-base to me.’
    • ‘I think most liberals really do oppose the war.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘We liberals tend to get awfully paranoid about these coincidences, don't we?’
    • ‘He didn't leave behind a platform with which the moderate liberals could identify.’
    1. 1.1 A supporter or member of a Liberal Party.
      • ‘The pamphlet concluded with an appeal for voters to place the Liberals last in the election.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘I think giving the Liberals a chance would be healthy - it has been in the Scottish parliament.’
      • ‘Is Labor seriously making common cause with the Liberals to subvert the rule of law?’
      • ‘A vote for Plaid or the Liberals could let the Tories in by the back door.’
      • ‘That's what their forefathers did when they broke from the Liberals over 100 years ago.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘The Tories and Liberals were easily beaten into third and fourth places.’
      • ‘It ensures that Labor will not be socialist and that the Liberals will not be liberal.’
      • ‘The Liberals said they were opposed to the war but supported it once it began.’
      • ‘It's about using fear and xenophobia as a tool to scare people into voting for the Liberals at the next election.’
      • ‘To essentially claim that he is no better than the Liberals or Tories is plain sectarianism.’
      • ‘It will be a tragedy if the Liberals continue to be the main beneficiaries of this.’
      • ‘At the time, the Liberals pledged to make health and education spending a priority.’
      • ‘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.’
      • ‘Council tax has gone up because of the appalling mess the Tories and Liberals are making of running the council.’


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).