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adjective per·va·sive \pər-ˈvā-siv, -ziv\

Simple Definition of pervasive

  • : existing in every part of something : spreading to all parts of something

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of pervasive

  1. :  existing in or spreading through every part of something <a pervasive odor>

pervasively adverb
pervasiveness noun

Examples of pervasive in a sentence

  1. A resuscitated orthodoxy, so pervasive as to be nearly invisible, rules the land. —Mark Slouka, Harper's, November 2004

  2. The manic money-grab excitement of the Nineties had never been altogether free of our pervasive American guilt. —Norman Mailer, New York Review of Books, 27 Mar. 2002

  3. Race was never articulated as an issue at the trial, even though its presence was pervasive. —Howard Chua-Eoan, Time, 6 Mar. 2000

  4. the pervasive nature of the problem

  5. television's pervasive influence on our culture

Is pervasive Always Negative?

Pervasive is most often used of things we don't really want spreading throughout all parts of something:

a pervasive problem

a stench that is pervasive

pervasive corruption

This is true too in the term pervasive developmental disorder, a synonym of the more commonly used autism spectrum disorder.

But pervasive can occasionally also be found in neutral and even positive contexts:

a pervasive rhythm

a pervasive sense of calm

The meaning isn't neutral when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) uses it. Beginning in the early 1990s, the MPAA started giving the R rating to movies with "pervasive language." Most movies have language throughout, of course. The MPAA is using the phrase "pervasive language" to refer to the frequent use of a particular kind of language: profanity.

Origin of pervasive

(see pervade)

First Known Use: circa 1750

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up pervasive? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to manage or play awkwardly

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