The Forms of Illiteracy; All 20 Types of Illiteracy!

There are at least 20 types of illiteracy. Stay tuned and keep reading if you want to learn about all 20 types of illiteracy.


The world as we know it is a confusing, odd place. Many times, we can find ourselves spending a lot of hours dealing with confusion over topics we do not understand. For example, you might not be very good with money, numbers, and sums; but in this word you need to find a way around that limitation. Finance is everything and being able to successfully control and manage your money is a huge skill in the modern world. However, it is clear that for some of us there is a complete blind spot to a potential problem in our lives. We often call this an illiteracy.

However, isn’t being illiterate simply down to the ability of being unable to read? In the past, yes. Today, though, the term illiteracy can be put towards a whole host of personal issues and errors that you might be dealing with in life. With that in mind, you might not be sure how to properly determine what is an issue, what is a limitation, and what is an outright illiteracy within your own skill set.

With that in mind, you might wish to take a look at the forms of illiteracy that exist today. In this article, we are going to break down the key forms of illiteracy. For example, some say that there as many as 20 – if not more – forms of illiteracy in the world today. Ranging from illiteracy in the written word to financial illiteracy, though, we have various forms to try and grasp.

Finding it hard to understand each? Then here is a simple, effective list of the most common forms of illiteracy that exist today. And make no mistake; these are not trendy terms, but proven forms of illiteracy.

The twenty forms of illiteracy that exist in our world

1. Literal illiteracy

Literal literacy

This is the most specific form of illiteracy as it is the one most of us know exists: the inability to read or write. This means being unable to take in written information, from a fiction book to a menu to a business flyer or an instruction manual. This is a form of illiteracy that plagues many people, even those from otherwise successful and educated backgrounds.

However, it is also a form of illiteracy that, with enough effort, can be overcome and left in the dustbin of history for anyone who is suffering.

2. Cultural illiteracy

Cultural illiteracy

While not something many people would understand, being culturally illiterate stems from simply not understanding your background and history. For example, you might not understand where local dialect comes from, your national history, or important cultural past-times, events, and celebrations.

Those who are culturally illiterate can also be this way towards other cultures, being incapable of understanding cultural norms and practices from other parts of the world. This kind of thinking often leads to seeing the world as something set in stone, where every person has a similar cultural outlook and lifestyle overall. As we all know, though, that is simply not the case.

3. Civic illiteracy

Civic illiteracy

This is a common issue for people who do not take much pride or impact on their local community. They fail to understand how one person, or a group of people, can deliver positive change and adjustment in an otherwise challenging part of life. This has become an increasingly common talking point, and is a key reason why many people view civic illiteracy as a serious issue.

Many times, the failure to see the rewards of working together can force people into negative paths and steps in life that will inhibit their ability to grow, succeed, and progress.

4. Racial illiteracy

Racial illiteracy

Someone who cannot understand that races are different and treated differently could be described as racially illiterate. They are commonplace as many people suffer from either an inability to understand the differences as well as an inability to understand any similarities.

Just as some can fail to see racism as a genuine issue due to lack of personal experience, it can also lead us to believe foolish stereotypes around other races i.e. all white people cannot jump high, or all black people like rap music.

Such simplistic thinking, and inability to understand more complex views on race, underpin many forms of racial illiteracy.

5. Financial illiteracy

Financial illiteracy

A common issue today, as mentioned above, is the example of someone who is financially illiterate. This means they struggle to understand money management, and that money is often the leading cause of poverty, inequality, and dissatisfaction in life.

Indeed, those with financial illiteracy tend to be poor savers, awful budgeters, and tend to struggle to save enough money to pay for the bills they have due and such issues. Those who lack financial literacy are often on a one-way road to poverty, unfortunately.

6. Numerical illiteracy

Numerical illiteracy

Linked to the above but not quite so much to do with money, numerical illiteracy is quite literally the inability to use numbers or work with them. Even simple things like working out what a quarter or half of something is can be a huge undertaking for the numerically illiterate.

Many adults and children suffer from this, albeit at less extreme and pronounced numbers than what we have suggested above. For many people, though, illiteracy with numbers can mean more than simply failing to budget; it can mean misunderstanding the entire figure of something that is very important.

7. Statistical illiteracy

Statistical illiteracy

Many of us, especially those who take part in sports, can find that statistics can be mind-boggling. For example, if you follow basketball as a sport you will be used to hearing statistics about someone. Let us say that a basketball player is known to score on 40% of their three-point tries. Someone who is statistically literate will understand what that means, and will look to compare it to the statistical average.

Someone who is statistically illiteracy, though, will not be able to picture or understand what that means, nor whether or not it’s a positive/negative statistic.

8. Factual illiteracy

Factual illiteracy

A rather abstract form of illiteracy, those who struggle to take things into critical thought are often seen as people who are factually illiterate. This means that they could be given any old sentence or claim and take it as face value, never really dissecting the information to see whether it is true or factual in the first place.

This is often a common problem for people who become trustworthy of people in positions of authority or power, accepting their every statement as 100% face. People who are factually illiterate tend to be easily persuaded into dangerous trains of thought and actions.

9. Functional illiteracy

Functional illiteracy

Tied into the above somewhat, functional illiteracy is an issue where you can take in a phrase or a sentence but you cannot really parse what it actually means. Often, these can be quite dangerous individuals as they can take overly simplistic explanations and conclusions very seriously.

This can lead to pretty damaging consequences, such as taking a very specific opinion on a much broader and more nuanced topic. In essence, then functional illiteracy stems from someone who can understand words, but not understand the meaning behind a collection of words: they understand each word in the paragraph, but not the meaning of them in combination.

10. Perception illiteracy

perception illiteracy

This is a rather abstract concept, but it is most commonly tied in with the above idea that if X said it, then it must be true. This is a form of illiteracy that is built around the concept that because the information was produced on a ‘trusted’ outlet or said by a personality they like, then it must be true and any alternative explanations are ‘fake news’ etc.

This is the exact kind of thought train that delivers concepts like “a newspaper can’t produce a fake story!” and other such inabilities to see the woods for the trees.

11. Physical illiteracy

physical illiteracy

This is a growing problem and it links itself quite seriously to health literacy. People who could be seen as being physically illiterate tend to spend a lot of time ignoring the importance of exercise, healthy eating, and nutrition. On a more sinister level, they believe things like the concept of planned ethnic cleansing within the medical industry as they simply do not have the understanding of the complexity of the health of our bodies and the consequences of lifestyles & diets.

12. Mental illiteracy

mental illiteracy

This is mostly in the form of people who simply cannot fathom the concept of mental health. They’ll say things like “just smile!” or “pick yourself up and get on with it!” – not realizing that for some people it isn’t as easy as a generic, feel-good slogan.

For that reason, mental illiteracy stems from people who simply think that every mental illness or limitation can be overcome or “forgotten” with some basic, feelgood thinking and whatnot. As most of us know, though, life isn’t quite so simple.

13. Translative illiteracy

Translative illiteracy

This is a common issue, and can come down to being unable to take one form of information and turn it into something else. For example, could you take an instruction manual and make a video about it? Or could you take a video and create a learning manual to go with?

This form of illiteracy can be quite hard to live with as it can make passing on information in any way other than the direct source very hard. Being able to take information from one source and apply it to another source is a very important skill today, but one that many people lack.

14. Inventive illiteracy

inventive illiteracy

Many of us today fail to keep up with the pace of technological change, and it is simply just part of life today. As new technology is produced, you are expected to try and keep up with the pace of change and understand what it can do – people who are inventively illiterate, though, often fail to grasp new products.

They can often feel left behind by society and excluded from the latest developments, trends, and crazes. That can be hard to deal with, but is only overcome by persevering and being willing to learn, grow, and understand the issues.

15. Argumentative illiteracy

argumentive illiteracy

Forgive the long-winded term, but someone who is argumentatively illiterate is someone who simply cannot understand their argument or opinion being argued against. They tend to be someone who will continue to argue their point despite being comprehensively proven wrong.

They often tend to be the kind of people who you will find arguing with an actual expert on a subject, using their at best base-level knowledge to try and belittle the actual expert. This is especially common in fields like health, environment, and politics. As you will find in this list, quite a few other forms of illiteracy follow a similar train of thought as argumentative illiteracy!

16. IT illiteracy

IT illiteracy

The most common form of illiteracy, though, is most likely to be IT or computer illiteracy. This is a common problem for many people, as the pace and developmental speed of computers has been nigh-impossible to keep pace with.

As such, many people can find it hard to build up confidence and belief in their ability to use a computer. Given their importance in personal and professional environments, some argue that IT illiteracy is likely to become as big an issue for people as actual literal illiteracy when it comes to the written word. That’s worrying, isn’t it?

17. Environmental illiteracy

environmental illiteracy

A common problem today is that people are totally illiterate as to the importance of the environment. They will pollute with reckless abandon, they will damage nature assuming it will simply heal itself, and they are completely disrespectful of the importance of environmental patterns and systems.

As such, they tend to be some of the most dangerous people given the damage that has been done to our environment in recent years and decades. With that in mind, many people who are environmentally illiterate think things like recycling is a scam, and tend to be quite happy to just live life based on what they need as opposed to thinking of the wider picture.

18. Agricultural illiteracy

agricultural illiteracy

Linked to the above, this is quite a rare form of illiteracy, but it is still increasingly common today – especially for those who grow up in a more urban environment. Often, your understanding of nature will be built upon what you can learn by doing; simply reading about nature alone is often not enough.

To learn and to become literate in the ways of agriculture, you need to see it actually take place in front of you. Many of us fail to understand both the importance of agriculture and how the process works, both minimizing its importance and the challenging process involved.

19. Emotional illiteracy

emotional illiteracy

People who could be described as being emotionally illiterate tend to be people who cannot understand their emotions and the emotions of others. They don’t realize that they are behaving out of a reaction to things going on in their life, or that other people could be in a bad mood due to problems they are facing.

As such, they take personal rebukes and criticism extremely personally, and tend to have a habit for being rude or making poor expressions that a more emotionally literate person might keep to themselves.

20. Image illiteracy

image illiteracy

If you are unable to take in a video or an image and see the actual point and purpose, then you could say that you have image or visual illiteracy. It is a common issue as it can make it hard to, say, take the information from a graph or understand the comparison being made in an infographic.

This can make it hard to understand stats and facts, and thus make it harder for someone to make the kind of progress that they would want to on a daily basis.

journal paper copy editors

Still struggling?

Hopefully, now you can understand that illiteracy is a real and present thing – and it extends far beyond simply being unable to read or write. Today, the challenge with using the term illiteracy is making sure it lines up with a real, genuine issue that you might have. Some people do not realize that their inability to take in a certain subject or situation isn’t a mistake, but a part of their own battle with illiteracy in some form or another.

Once you realize and understand this, it becomes much easier for you to:

  • Understand that the limitations that you are facing are part of an illiteracy you have.
  • Work towards finding solutions or even defeating your illiteracy in a certain subject.
  • Learn about the issues that you face so that you can defeat them in the correct way.
  • Build self-belief and understanding that, in life, illiteracy is a common issue for people.

Armed with the information above and your new-found knowledge of the issue of illiteracy as a subject, you can now do something about it. Most of the time, literacy can be achieved, and fluency developed in any of the above issues. Don’t doubt yourself; with training and effort, success is well and truly possible.

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By David Adewusi

David is a blog writer who likes writing about literature, English grammar, and editing methods. He has also worked as a copy editor and proofreader. He has written excellent blog posts for Scientific Editing.

20 thoughts on “The Forms of Illiteracy; All 20 Types of Illiteracy!”

  1. This is in fact a fastidious article, keep it up. I learned a lot about the forms of illiteracy. I wonder if there are more!

    • Thanks for your feedback!
      Indeed there are more forms of illiteracy. This is only a short list of the most common ones.

  2. I’d like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this blog.
    I really hope to see the same high-grade blog posts.

  3. If someone cannot figure out a tricky image, like optical illusion, is that considered image illiteracy? Because anyone can be tricked by tricky optical illusions.

  4. Hello, this is such a good blog! I like to see such insightful posts. This is informative and I think illiteracy is an important topic to touch on!

  5. I believe I am dealing with some form of illiteracy, after losing vision in one eye, I am no longer able to read traditionally, (i.e. books or other printed material) and can only read from a computer screen. I think the closest I could call it is textual illiteracy, or maybe visual illiteracy. I am curious on your thoughts on the matter, and thanks for your time!

    • Sorry to hear that.
      Illiteracy is caused by lack of knowledge in a certain area and normally can be fixed by proper education. Your condition sounds like a medical disorder that is not caused by lack of knowledge and cannot be fixed by education. I think an ophthalmologist should know the right term for that.


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