anal-re·​ten·​tive ˈā-nᵊl-ri-ˈten-tiv How to pronounce anal-retentive (audio)
variants or anal retentive
psychoanalytic theory
: exhibiting or typifying personality traits (such as frugality and obstinacy) held to be psychological consequences of toilet training
Overextending psychic energy during the process of toilet training by holding back can result in fixating at the anal stage, creating an anal retentive personality as an adult. The anal retentive personality is characterized by the tendency to cope with conflicts later in life by demonstrating an extreme sense of cleanliness and orderliness, such as dusting furniture or waxing the car when troubled.Bernardo J. Carducci
often used in nontechnical contexts to describe someone as extremely or excessively neat, careful, or precise
… is his father's clone—intense, focused, fuddy-duddy, severely anal-retentive, or as Archie puts it, "a neat freak."Curry Kirkpatrick
anal retentive noun
or anal-retentive
plural anal retentives or anal-retentives
Anal-retentives hoping to use PCs to organize their lives … The Washington Post
anal retentiveness noun
or anal-retentiveness
… maybe it's my anal retentiveness, my futile attempts to bring order to a chaotic world. Who knows? All I know is there's no more beautiful sight than firewood stacked in long, perfect rows. Craig Wilson

Examples of anal-retentive in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web One might be forgiven for also thinking that the identification is not so much between the audience and the killer as between Fincher, who is known as something of a filmmaking fusspot, and his anal-retentive central character. Michael O'Sullivan, Washington Post, 25 Oct. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'anal-retentive.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

1936, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of anal-retentive was in 1936

Dictionary Entries Near anal-retentive

Cite this Entry

“Anal-retentive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jun. 2024.

Medical Definition


1 of 2 adjective
variants or anal retentive
: characterized by personality traits (as frugality and obstinacy) held to be psychological sequelae of toilet training : anal sense 2b
anal retentiveness noun
or anal-retentiveness

anal retentive

2 of 2 noun
variants or anal-retentive
: an anal-retentive individual

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