arbitrary

adjective ar·bi·trary \ ˈär-bə-ˌtrer-ē , -ˌtre-rē \
Updated on: 17 Nov 2017

Definition of arbitrary

1 a :existing or coming about seemingly at random or by chance or as a capricious and unreasonable act of will
  • an arbitrary choice
  • When a task is not seen in a meaningful context it is experienced as being arbitrary.
  • —Nehemiah Jordan
b :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
2 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
3 law :depending on individual discretion (as of a judge) and not fixed by law
  • The manner of punishment is arbitrary.

arbitrarily

play \ˌär-bə-ˈtrer-ə-lē, -ˈtre-rə-\ adverb

arbitrariness

play \ˈär-bə-ˌtrer-ē-nəs, -ˌtre-rē-\ noun

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Examples of arbitrary in a Sentence

  1. 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 RaweTime2 Apr. 2007
  2. Darwin's emphasis on how populations gradually change gave the notion of species a more arbitrary quality: Species had whatever boundaries taxonomists chose. The idea of a species as a population of individuals that breed mostly with each other comes from 20th-century theorists. —S. MiliusScience News25 Mar. 2006
  3. The Marriage Act certainly employed arbitrary and draconian means. It forced all couples to marry between 8 am and 12 noon, according to the rites of the established Church of England, in one of their respective local parish churches. —David JohnsonHistory TodayNovember 2003
  4. Two days after President Lincoln issued the first version of his Emancipation Proclamation, he suspended the right of habeas corpus for anyone accused of resisting the draft or discouraging enlistment. Hundreds of civilians were arrested, some for good reasons, some for entirely arbitrary and personal ones. —Michael LesyDouble TakeSpring 2001
  5. An arbitrary number has been assigned to each district.

  6. I don't know why I chose that one; it was a completely arbitrary decision.

  7. Although arbitrary arrests are illegal, they continue to occur in many parts of the country.

Recent Examples of arbitrary from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'arbitrary.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Did You Know?

Arbitrary is derived from the same source as "arbiter." The Latin word arbiter means "judge," and English adopted it, via Anglo-French, with the meaning "one who judges a dispute"; it can now also be used for anyone whose judgment is respected. "Arbitrary" traces back to the Latin adjective arbitrarius ("done by way of legal arbitration"), which itself comes from "arbiter." In English "arbitrary" first meant "depending upon choice or discretion" and was specifically used to indicate the sort of decision (as for punishment) left up to the expert determination of a judge rather than defined by law. Today, it can also be used for anything determined by or as if by a personal choice or whim.

Origin and Etymology of arbitrary

Middle English, "depending on individual discretion," borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French arbitraire, arbitrarie "relating to arbitration," borrowed from Latin arbitrārius "relating to or depending on the discretion of an arbiter," from arbitr-, arbiter arbiter + -ārius 2-ary


ARBITRARY Defined for English Language Learners

arbitrary

adjective

Definition of arbitrary for English Language Learners

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

  • : done without concern for what is fair or right


ARBITRARY Defined for Kids

arbitrary

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

Definition of arbitrary for Students

1 :made, chosen, or acting without thought of what is fair or right
  • arbitrary decisions
  • an arbitrary ruler
2 :seeming to have been made or chosen by chance
  • We were given an arbitrary list of books to choose from.

arbitrarily

\ˌär-bə-ˈtrer-ə-lē\ adverb

arbitrariness

\ˈär-bə-ˌtrer-ē-nəs\ noun

Law Dictionary

arbitrary

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

legal Definition of arbitrary

1 :depending on individual discretion (as of a judge) and not fixed by standards, rules, or law
  • the manner of punishment is arbitrary
2 a :not restrained or limited in the exercise of power
  • an arbitrary government
b :marked by or resulting from the unrestrained exercise of power
  • protection from arbitrary arrest and detention
3 a :based on preference, bias, prejudice, or convenience rather than on reason or fact
  • an arbitrary standard
  • different provisions for the married and the unmarried were irrational and arbitrary
  • —K. A. Cohen
b :existing or coming about seemingly at random or by chance or as an unreasonable act of individual will without regard for facts or applicable law often used in the phrase arbitrary and capricious
  • an agency finding or conclusion of lack of evidence would be arbitrary and capricious if the record afforded no substantial basis for such a finding
  • Irvin v. Hobby, 131 F. Supp. 851 (1955)
Note: Under section 706 of the Administrative Procedure Act, a court shall set aside an agency's action, findings, or conclusions determined upon review to be arbitrary.

arbitrarily

play \ˌär-bə-ˈtrer-ə-lē\ adverb

arbitrariness

play \ˈär-bə-ˌtrer-ē-nəs\ noun


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