The Meaning of Surreal: What It Is and How To Use It

Have you ever been confused by the definition of surreal? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word surreal, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word surreal mean?

According to Collins English Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and the American Heritage Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, the word surreal is an adjective that means combined in a strange way or unexpected, like in a dream. Surrealism is also a noun that refers to an artistic movement that presents the idea of the unconscious mind’s imagination which reveals itself in dreams. Artists from this movement include René Magritte, Joan Miró, Ayumi Hamasaki, Guillaume Apollinaire, André Breton, and Salvador Dalí whose melting watches painting became an icon in surrealism. A characteristic of surrealism is things we might see in dreams.

Many things can be surreal, including surreal numbers, a surrealist group, a surreal mixture of opulence and decay, surreal fantastic imagery, a surreal minor storm, a surreal mix of fact and fiction, a surreal fantasy, a surreal bizarre mix of elements, surreal complexities of the bureaucracy, the surrealist movement, incongruous imagery with a disorienting hallucinatory quality of a dream, a surreal experience and more.

Many different languages also contain words that mean surreal. You may notice that some of these translations of surreal look and sound similar to one another. These are called cognates, which are words and phrases in different languages that likely have the same root or language of origin, causing them to sound the same. The below list of translations of surreal is provided by Word Sense

  •  German: surreal‎
  •  Finnish: epätodellinen‎
  •  Mandarin: (of mood) 玄妙‎ (xuánmiào), (of genre) 超現實‎, 超现实‎
  •  Romanian: suprareal‎ (masc.)
  •  Tagalog: kubtunay‎
  •  Greek: σουρεαλιστικός‎ (masc.) (sourealistikós), υπερρεαλιστικός‎ (masc.)
  •  Hebrew: הזוי‎ (masc.), הזויה‎ (fem.)
  •  Dutch: surreëel‎, bovenwerkelijk‎
  •  Polish: surrealistyczny‎ (masc.)
  •  Scottish Gaelic: os-fhìreach‎

What is the origin of surreal?

According to Etymonline, the word surreal has been used since the year 1936. This word was a back formation from the word surrealism or surrealist. These come from the French surréalisme, which comes from the prefix sur- meaning “beyond” and the French word réalisme meaning “realism”. This word was coined by 1917 by Guillaume Apollinaire and was named as the title of the surrealist movement by Andre Breton in 1924. This artistic movement was officially launched with Breton’s Manifeste de Surréalisme.

How can the word surreal be used in a sentence?

The word surreal can be used in many different contexts in the English language. Trying to use a word in a sentence is one of the best ways to memorize its definition and add it to your vocabulary, but you can also try making flashcards or quizzes that test your knowledge. Try using this word of the day in a sentence today! Below are a couple of  examples of the word surreal that can help get you started incorporating this word into your vocabulary.  

The low income student experienced many surreal moments in her first semester at Princeton University. She never expected to be surrounded by so many people with the same thirst for knowledge she did. By November, she fit right in.

The surreal art displayed at the gallery had many details of the setting that were surprising and strange.

When she was on the painkillers after her wisdom teeth surgery, everything felt surreal. She was hallucinating and things seemed to move in front of her very eyes, like she was in some sort of strange dream. She decided to sleep it off.

What are synonyms and antonyms of surreal?

There are many different words that one can use in place of the word surreal (adj.). These are considered synonyms, which are words that have the same definition as another word or phrase. Synonyms are useful to know if you are trying to avoid repeating yourself or if you are looking to expand your vocabulary. This list of synonyms for the word surreal is provided by Power Thesaurus.

  •  fantastical
  •  zany
  •  mysterious
  •  outlandish
  •  peculiar
  •  unrealistic
  •  off-the-wall
  •  delusionary
  •  trancelike
  •  illusional
  •  delusional
  •  paranormal
  •  surrealist
  •  creepy
  •  bizarro
  •  unexplainable
  •  oddball
  •  very strange
  •  abnormal
  •  delusive
  •  dream-like
  •  freaky
  •  spooky
  •  crazy
  •  captivating
  •  unusual
  •  mesmerizing
  •  unconventional
  •  hallucinative
  •  quaint
  •  weirdest
  •  wacky
  •  fanciful
  •  unbelievable
  •  surrealistic
  •  bizarre
  •  unaccountable
  •  phantasmagorical
  •  chimerical
  •  insubstantial
  •  fantastic
  •  ghostly
  •  fancied
  •  otherworldly
  •  bizzare
  •  way-out
  •  quirky
  •  madcap
  •  transcendental
  •  coo-coo
  •  kafkaesque
  •  offbeat
  •  illusionary
  •  eldritch
  •  fictional
  •  unreal
  •  phantasmagoric
  •  illogical
  •  freakish
  •  extraordinary
  •  dreamlike
  •  inexplicable
  •  eerie
  •  unaccustomed
  •  incongruous
  •  illusory
  •  alien
  •  suspicious
  •  illusive
  •  idiosyncratic
  •  imaginary
  •  supernatural
  •  unearthly
  •  preternatural
  •  incredible
  •  queer
  •  chimeric
  •  concocted
  •  unsubstantial
  •  as queer as dick’s hatband
  •  hallucinatory
  •  uncanny
  •  weird
  •  odd
  •  buggy
  •  delusory
  •  grotesque
  •  coo coo
  •  nightmarish
  •  hypnagogic
  •  awkweird
  •  visionary
  •  unnatural
  •  alice-in-wonderland
  •  absurd
  •  hallucinational
  •  strange
  •  very unusual
  •  eccentric
  •  perverted

There are also many different words that have the opposite meaning as the word surreal. These are considered antonyms. Antonyms are also very useful to know if you want to expand your vocabulary and knowledge of the English language. This list of antonyms for the word surreal is also provided by Power Thesaurus

  •  normal
  •  recognizable
  •  real-world
  •  comprehensible
  •  usual
  •  matter-of-fact
  •  popular
  •  indubitable
  •  basic
  •  ordinary
  •  undoubted
  •  typical
  •  pellucid
  •  objective
  •  unmistakable
  •  incontestable
  •  essential
  •  understandable
  •  real person
  •  virtual
  •  naturel
  •  lucid
  •  reales
  •  existent
  •  verified
  •  concrete
  •  real
  •  obvious
  •  counter-evidential
  •  genuine
  •  undeniable
  •  valid
  •  real-life
  •  this is the true
  •  believable
  •  plain
  •  mediocre
  •  veritable
  •  this is a real
  •  natural
  •  be truth
  •  everyday
  •  indisputable
  •  incontrovertible
  •  transparent
  •  unimaginative
  •  unquestionable
  •  absolute
  •  perspicuous
  •  certain
  •  true
  •  factual
  •  tangible
  •  natural occurring
  •  conventional
  •  irrefutable
  •  identifiable
  •  substantiated
  •  earthly
  •  apprehensible
  •  actual
  •  veridical
  •  realistic
  •  reais
  •  standard
  •  palpable
  •  validated
  •  literal
  •  non fiction
  •  proven
  •  in the real world
  •  authentic

Overall, the word surreal means having a dreamlike quality. 


  1. Surreal definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary 
  2. Surreal synonyms – 145 Words and Phrases for Surreal | Power Thesaurus 
  3. surreal: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  4. Surreal antonyms – 72 Opposites of Surreal | Power Thesaurus 
  5. surreal | Origin and meaning of surreal | Online Etymology Dictionary