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I'm looking for a term to accurately describe a person who can only read but cannot write. While I'm primarily concerned with people who have never learned to write, I would also be interested in any additional terms used to represent people who have lost the ability to write as a result of disuse.

Both illiterate and unlettered imply an inability to read as well as to write.

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Good question. Historians are increasingly coming to the conclusion that a lot more people knew how to read in the middle ages than previously thought, because the traditional way to determine literacy (look at whether the person signed his name vs. made a mark) only shows those who knew how to write, which was a separate skill. –  Marthaª Oct 10 '12 at 20:34
    
@Marthaª Is it that common? (nowadays, to be able to read but not write). reading is hard to pick up without schooling, and schooling usually ends up doing both. –  Mitch Oct 10 '12 at 21:14
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I endorse Martha's and Mitch's comments, but, on the other hand, a technical term to describe persons who lost their abilty to write could be exist, although this term could, probably, depend from the kind of accident that caused this shape of disabilty (lost both hands, lost all fingers, cerebral ictus, etc.) –  user19148 Oct 10 '12 at 21:55
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@Mitch I don't know about proficient readers, but it's certainly possible for people to have some degree of reading ability that they've picked up from reading street signs, etc. They can recognise words and phrases from the context, from just the initial letters, from the outline and so on, but would be completely unable to write them from memory. In principle, this is no different from young children who can understand much more speech than they can produce. –  Pitarou Oct 11 '12 at 2:45

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Dysgraphia, per Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary 31st Ed., is simply "difficulty in writing." Therefore, I disagree that this is a correct answer.

Agraphia is defined as:

"Impairment or loss of the ability to write; it takes two forms, one involving poor morphology of written letter forms and the other a reflection of the aphasia also observed in spoken language... Called also graphomotor aphasia"

I do think you need to carefully make a distinction between the person who never learned to write and those who have lost the ability to write. One may be a learning issue, whereas the other can be the result of a neurologic problem, such as a stroke. Agraphia and dysgraphia are terms that imply that the ability was once there, but is now either impaired or lost.

I don't know of a term that would cover the loss of the ability to write through disuse.

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Some dictionaries (1,2) list “able to read but unable to write” as a sense of semiliterate. However, two other senses of that word (“able to read and write on an elementary level” and “having limited knowledge or understanding”) might be more commonly understood.

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+1 Thank you. The two sub-definitions are slightly at odds with each other. It's also odd that only Webster and Collins draws attention to this distinction. I also ran across analphabetic which is not particularly helpful either; but a suitable counterpart would be lovely. –  coleopterist Oct 11 '12 at 6:05

Dysgraphia is the condition of being unable to write; one who suffers from dysgraphia could be called dysgraphic.

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Dysgraphia, per Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary 31st Ed., is "difficulty in writing." Agraphia is "impairment or loss of the ability to write; it takes two forms, one involving poor morphology of written letter forms and the other a reflection of the aphasia also observed in spoken language... Called also graphomotor aphasia" –  JLG Oct 10 '12 at 23:26
    
@JLG please improve this Q&A by posting that answer. –  MετάEd Oct 11 '12 at 2:38

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