If you see a goldfish fly out of a melting clock and offer you tango lessons, you’re having a surreal experience! Either that or you’re asleep and dreaming. Things that are surreal combine unrelated elements to create a bizarre scene.

The adjective surreal comes from Surrealism, a movement that produced films, writing, painting, and other art forms that often contained irrational, disjointed images. So, surreal describes something that’s a bizarre mix of elements, often jarring and seemingly nonsensical. Images can be surreal, like the melting clocks in Salvador Dali's paintings, but so can strange, dream-like moments in everyday life.

Definitions of surreal

adj characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtapositions

“the incongruous imagery in surreal art and literature”
phantasmagoric, phantasmagorical, surrealistic
not realistic

adj resembling a dream

“as irrational and surreal as a dream”
not actually such; being or seeming fanciful or imaginary

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.