cap·​tive | \ ˈkap-tiv How to pronounce captive (audio) \

Definition of captive

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : taken and held as or as if a prisoner of war
b(1) : kept within bounds : confined
(2) : of or relating to captive animals captive breeding
2 : held under control of another but having the appearance of independence especially : owned or controlled by another concern and operated for its needs rather than for an open market a captive mine
3 : being such involuntarily because of a situation that makes free choice or departure difficult a captive audience


plural captives

Definition of captive (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : one who has been captured : one taken and held usually in confinement Something there is in us that finds captivity captivating, particularly when the captives are prisoners of war.— David Murray He said that while one of the war-boats was being made ready to take the captives into the lagoon, he and his sister left the camp quietly and got away in their canoe.— Joseph Conrad
2 : one captivated, dominated, or controlled a captive to love Unlike so many experts pronouncing on that subject today, though, he has never been a captive of a particular ideology or of a well-heeled interest group.— Uwe E. Reinhardt Crescent City residents love their culinary customs—too much, according to some critics, who complain that the city's chefs are captives of the past.— Mitch Frank

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Synonyms & Antonyms for captive

Synonyms: Adjective

Synonyms: Noun

Antonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Noun

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Examples of captive in a Sentence

Adjective The captive soldiers planned their escape. the captive soldiers were treated humanely by the guards
Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Since 2002, 17 CWD-positive captive cervid facilities have been detected in Wisconsin; 11 have been depopulated. Paul A. Smith, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Smith: State agencies must stamp out CWD at deer farms," 25 Oct. 2017 SeaWorld no longer breeds its captive killer whales and is phasing out its theatrical Shamu shows in favor of educational orca encounters. Lori Weisberg,, "Legoland owner denies interest in SeaWorld parks purchase," 11 Oct. 2017 Abroad, his annexation of Crimea and the campaigns in Syria and Ukraine have been burnished for the evening news by a captive, triumphalist media. The Economist, "A tsar is born," 26 Oct. 2017 According to a criminal complaint filed Thursday, 35-year-old Thomas Stinnette is accused of picking up the woman in Georgia last week and holding her captive. charlotteobserver, "Man accused of trafficking GA woman at Pineville hotel | Charlotte Observer," 11 Oct. 2017 That agency said a man armed with a weapon was holding the woman captive. Nicholas Rondinone,, "Report Of Woman Held Hostage In Trumbull Apartment False Alarm," 14 Sep. 2017 American journalist Austin Tice was taken captive in Syria five years ago. Alexander Smith, NBC News, "RUSI Report on Terror Ransom Payments Says Americans Are at Risk," 12 Sep. 2017 Police arrested Perez, now 44, after Gonzalez told them that her husband had kidnapped and raped her and held her captive for days in a motel room. Michael Smolens,, "Will this be the case that haunts former DA Dumanis?," 10 Sep. 2017 Between 2008 and 2010, as chytrid was killing off the amphibians, the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project rescued a population of breeding animals and held them captive for their own safety. Jackson Landers, Smithsonian, "A Pioneering Force of Harlequin Frogs Set Out to Help Save Their Species," 6 June 2017

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

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First Known Use of captive


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for captive


Middle English, from Latin captivus, from captus, past participle of capere

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Time Traveler for captive

Time Traveler

The first known use of captive was in the 14th century

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Cite this Entry

“Captive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for captive


How to pronounce captive (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of captive

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: captured and kept in a prison, cage, etc.
: forced to watch or listen to something because you cannot leave



English Language Learners Definition of captive (Entry 2 of 2)

: someone who is captured and kept as a prisoner


cap·​tive | \ ˈkap-tiv How to pronounce captive (audio) \

Kids Definition of captive

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : taken and held prisoner captive soldiers
2 : kept within bounds or under control captive animals
3 : as a prisoner I was taken captive.
4 : unable to avoid watching or listening to something a captive audience



Kids Definition of captive (Entry 2 of 2)

: someone who is held prisoner

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More from Merriam-Webster on captive

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for captive

Spanish Central: Translation of captive

Nglish: Translation of captive for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of captive for Arabic Speakers

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