I have looked up this word in 8 or 9 dictionaries. No dictionary gives many examples, so I am finding it a bit hard to use this word in my own sentences.

Macmillan’s explanation of the word is:

something surreal is so strange that you cannot believe it is real

These surreal events eventually led to police arresting the teacher in her classroom.

Source: macmillandictionary.com definition of “surreal”

Longman’s explanation is:

a situation or experience that is surreal is very strange and difficult to understand, like something from a dream

The house was a surreal mixture of opulence and decay.

Source: ldoceonline.com definition of “surreal”

Now I’m trying to use the word in my own way. Have I used the word “surreal” correctly in the following sentences?

  1. It’s a surreal world. (like weird)
  2. He is by nature surreal.
  3. They’ve got a surreal dog which doesn't bark at strangers.

Do you have any examples—or, better still, any explanation—to describe this word?

Is it a positive or a negative word exactly?

  • 1
    If the whole world seems surreal, that's more a matter of how you see the world than anything about the world itself. I don't know what it means for a person to be "surreal by nature" (does he do surreal things, habitually find things surreal, or what?). Dogs that don't bark at strangers might well be less common than dogs that do, but it's hardly sufficiently bizarre as to justify calling such a dog "surreal". Nov 3, 2014 at 18:19
  • @Leo The name of the dictionary is Macmillan. Nov 3, 2014 at 18:54
  • The opposite of surreal is normal or usual – typically used to describe a situation or event. May 30, 2017 at 17:08

3 Answers 3


Surreal has the definition that you give, but it typically doesn't describe a person or object, but instead an experience or feeling. You wouldn't normally describe someone or something as habitually surreal, even if they are strange and unusual. Your example 1 works, 2 less so, and 3 not really, the way it is written. I've rewritten 2 and 3 with a bit more context to clarify how you might use the word in those situations.

Surreal is neither negative nor positive. It can easily go either way. It is most often used for an experience that is truly otherworldly (deja vu, perhaps, or the sensation of time slowing down when you are in danger) but is occasionally used sarcastically to describe completely mundane things that are mildly unusual (not losing a sock in the laundry, walking across a dark room without stubbing your toe, that kind of thing.)

  1. John went crazy when he met Justin Bieber. Watching a normally quiet 40 year old man turn into a 12 year old girl was surreal. (Here John isn't surreal, his actions are surreal.)
  2. Watching their dog interact with strangers is surreal. It acts wild but never barks.
    (Not the best usage, but the best I could think of with a dog-surreal combination. Strange, weird, bizarre, or unusual would be preferable here, in my opinion.)

More examples:
4. When I realized that our cars were about to crash, time slowed down; it was surreal.
5. I am not a handsome man, so it felt surreal when the most beautiful woman at the party asked me to dance.
6. My drive to work was surreal, every light was green along the way and there was no traffic at all. I hardly even saw another car.

Here is a page with many more sentences using the word as well. Some are better than others, but all of them are sensible.

  • 2
    Great explanation and examples! For me, when I think of surreal, I think of the days after 9/11 in the US. I lived near an airport at the time, and never noticed the noise of flights overhead until they abruptly stopped that day. All I could hear, focus on, was the absence of plane noise. And then when fighter jets would take off from the military base at the airport, they sounded 10 times louder than they'd seemed before. It was truly surreal.
    – michelle
    Nov 3, 2014 at 18:34

It can be difficult to give examples of using surreal, as by definition it should almost never be the correct word to describe something in the real world. I find it helpful to think of the artistic style of Surrealism to see the word as it was intended to be used. This art movement was dedicated to creating dreamlike and impossible images.


Something is surreal when it makes you feel as if you must be dreaming, because you cannot imagine it being true. For example, if you were watching a recorded video, and the person on the screen spoke directly to you, that would be surreal.

Surreal is sometimes used as a funny synonym for "very surprising" or "unexpected". For instance:

Alice: How did you do on your English test?

Bob: I got an "A".

Alice: That's impossible, you didn't even study!

Bob: I know...it's surreal.


I have in the past heard some people describe themselves as being surreal. When you speak to them further I think they are describing themselves as in the way they may feel. Therefore by describing themselves as being surreal, what they mean is that they feel detached or distant from the world and everyone and everything. Like they are alone somehow even though they may not be alone. They may feel empty or emotionless or may feel like they are in a dream or dreamlike state. If a person feels this way all the time then couldn't they then feel like they are surreal by nature? That's the only way I could make sense of your second example. Unless you were simply describing a person who is maybe different, strange, unusual or peculiar.

  • It's kind of a slang to describe yourself as "surreal". It's more common to describe your current life or an experience as "surreal", as a synonym of "bizarre". Otherwise I wouldn't describe a dog as surreal, or say a person is surreal -- there are better words you could use instead, like "peculiar", "freakish", "unnatural", or just "weird".
    – Andrew
    Jan 3, 2017 at 18:34

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