adjective ar·bi·trary \ˈär-bə-ˌtrer-ē, -ˌtre-rē\

: not planned or chosen for a particular reason : not based on reason or evidence

: done without concern for what is fair or right

Full Definition of ARBITRARY

:  depending on individual discretion (as of a judge) and not fixed by law <the manner of punishment is arbitrary>
a :  not restrained or limited in the exercise of power :  ruling by absolute authority <an arbitrary government>
b :  marked by or resulting from the unrestrained and often tyrannical exercise of power <protection from arbitrary arrest and detention>
a :  based on or determined by individual preference or convenience rather than by necessity or the intrinsic nature of something <an arbitrary standard> <take any arbitrary positive number> <arbitrary division of historical studies into watertight compartments — A. J. Toynbee>
b :  existing or coming about seemingly at random or by chance or as a capricious and unreasonable act of will <when a task is not seen in a meaningful context it is experienced as being arbitrary — Nehemiah Jordan>
ar·bi·trari·ly \ˌär-bə-ˈtrer-ə-lē, -ˈtre-rə-\ adverb
ar·bi·trar·i·ness \ˈär-bə-ˌtrer-ē-nəs, -ˌtre-rē-\ noun

Examples of ARBITRARY

  1. An arbitrary number has been assigned to each district.
  2. I don't know why I chose that one; it was a completely arbitrary decision.
  3. Although arbitrary arrests are illegal, they continue to occur in many parts of the country.
  4. U.S. News was revealed to have considered assigning in its next rankings an arbitrary SAT score to Sarah Lawrence College because the school no longer collects applicants' scores. —Julie Rawe, Time, 2 Apr. 2007


(see 1arbitrage)
First Known Use: 15th century

Other Government and Politics Terms

agent provocateur, agitprop, autarky, cabal, egalitarianism, federalism, hegemony, plenipotentiary, popular sovereignty, socialism
ARBITRARY Defined for Kids


adjective ar·bi·trary \ˈär-bə-ˌtrer-ē\

Definition of ARBITRARY for Kids

:  made, chosen, or acting without thought of what is fair or right <arbitrary decisions> <an arbitrary ruler>
:  seeming to have been made or chosen by chance <We were given an arbitrary list of books to choose from.>
ar·bi·trari·ly \ˌär-bə-ˈtrer-ə-lē\ adverb
ar·bi·trar·i·ness \ˈär-bə-ˌtrer-ē-nəs\ noun


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