• To enlighten; to develop one's morality or intellect through instruction

  • To erect or construct


Across fiction and media, some of the most captivating and inspiring characters are the sagely mentors who guide the hero toward fulfilling a quest. Oftentimes their words of wisdom are so memorable that they resonate with the audience as well as the onscreen (or on-page) protagonist. The instruction these revered masters give goes beyond simply educating heroes and truly edifies them, enlightening them about character and morality so they may face their quest boldly.

Edify means to educate someone specifically to nurture their sense of intellect or ethics. Because of the nature of the traits that it addresses, edify illustrates more than just teaching facts or knowledge, but building an individual's character by developing their way of thinking or sense of morality. In Christianity, to edify not only means to teach an adherent the morals of their faith, but to actually reinforce their connection with God. The latitude for the word's subject is incredibly wide, encompassing people and things, whether concrete or abstract, as it could just as easily be a person that edifies someone as it could an experience or obstacle. The same is true of its object: while a person is usually what is edified, it could also be one of that person's traits that is built up. Whatever the case, to edify is to impel the growth of a profound and critical part of someone's identity, imparting the sort of lessons that last a lifetime.

A secondary, more archaic use of the word edify means to literally build or construct something, usually a physical structure. Appropriately, a building, or edifice, is the result of workers edifying it. Though edify is not often employed in this way in modern language, it could be used to more formally describe the construction of something, perhaps for a special or ceremonial purpose. This sense, though, is critical to understanding the primary one, because just as it denotes constructing a structure, one essentially builds up a person by imparting wisdom.

Example: Jake loved taking martial arts classes, as his sensei managed to edify him as he trained him.

Example: Construction crews worked around the clock to edify the stadium in time for the international competition.


The word edify, in both literal and figurative senses, first showed up in English in the mid-1300s, before which it took the form of the Old French word edifier, meaning "to build" and also "to instruct." This derived from its Latin incarnation, aedificare, which translated to "to construct." Aedificare, in turn, broke down into the components aedis, for "dwelling," and facere, meaning "to make or create."

Derivative Words

Edification: This noun describes the act or state of enlightening one's heart or mind. Generally, it does not pertain to a literal construction (see edifice).

Example: His edification was long overdue in the minds of his friends, who often remarked at how immature he was.

Edifice: An edifice is a freestanding structure, or the product of a construction project of some kind. By comparing it with the construction of buildings, edifice can be extended to refer to the abstract or conceptual structure of a thing, such as a philosophical school of thought.

Example: The towering new edifice was a testament to significant strides in engineering and contemporary architectural trends.

Example: The nascent economic theory made for such a weak edifice that economists advancing competing models easily dismantled it.

Example: The company faltered right after building its expensive headquarters – classic curse of the edifice complex.

Edified: This past tense of edify notes when someone or something has already communicated wisdom or erected a structure.

Example: The philosophy she read had so thoroughly edified her moral sense that she was undaunted when posed with tough hypothetical choices.

Example: The child took apart his Legos and edified a completely new creation every day.

Edifier: This noun means a person or thing responsible for growing someone's character or erecting an edifice.

Example: His music teacher was the edifier he never had in his distant father.

Example: The architect had made a name for himself as an edifier of soaring towers that defined skylines all over the world.

Edifies: This conjugated form is used when a he, she, or it is providing a person's instruction or undertakes the effort to build something.

Example: The religious leader's weekly sermon edifies his congregation a little bit more each time they worship.

Example: Each new mayor eventually edifies their own new municipal facility to leave their mark on the city.

Edifying: The past participle of edify, edifying, characterizes either that something or someone has a metaphorically or literally constructive effect, or the active process of building a person's character or a material object.

Example: She found it more edifying to learn life's lessons for herself, even when others meant well in giving their advice.

Example: The world's largest cities are constantly edifying new skyscrapers to outdo one another – considered by some a hoary tradition.

Unedifying: This adjective derivative of edify distinguishes something as lacking any reinforcing benefit, or not being constructive, to some cause or initiative. While valid across regions, the term is most prevalent in British and Australian English.

Example: Their boss’s lack of confidence that the office could meet their sales quota was deeply unedifying.

In Literature

From Anne Lister's I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister 1791-1840:

I owe a good deal to this journal. By unburdening my mind on paper I feel, as it were, in some degree to get rid of it; it seems made over to a friend that hears it patiently, keeps it faithfully, and by never forgetting anything, is always ready to compare the past & present and thus to cheer & edify the future.

Lister remarks how, by allowing her to set aside and preserve past experiences, her journal allows her to build, or edify, a more informed and fruitful future in her life.


  • To edify is to fortify your heart and your head.

  • When Yoda edified Luke, he Jedi-fied him.


Education, Intelligence, Morality, Building

Bring out the linguist in you! What is your own interpretation of edify. Did you use edify in a game? Provide an example sentence or a literary quote.