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cap·​tive ˈkap-tiv How to pronounce captive (audio)
: taken and held as or as if a prisoner of war
: kept within bounds : confined
: of or relating to captive animals
captive breeding
: 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
: being such involuntarily because of a situation that makes free choice or departure difficult
a captive audience


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plural captives
: 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
: 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

Examples of captive in a Sentence

Adjective The captive soldiers planned their escape. the captive soldiers were treated humanely by the guards Noun the captives in the concentration camp had devised a daring plan of escape
Recent Examples on the Web
Israel's operations in Rafah, a direct response to a rocket attack on IDF troops launched by Hamas from inside the city, could also prove detrimental to ongoing negotiations to free the more than 100 hostages believed to be held captive inside Gaza in exchange for an extended cease-fire. Shannon K. Crawford, ABC News, 9 May 2024 The 15-year-old called her mother Feb. 29 and told her she was being held captive and was going to escape, according to a 911 call obtained by McClatchy News. Olivia Lloyd, Miami Herald, 7 May 2024 Held captive by his former security guards in an isolated wing of his house, the deposed president of Niger paces a bedroom with no direct daylight, cut off from the world and unable to talk to his lawyers, according to people with direct knowledge of the conditions of his detention. Elian Peltier, New York Times, 4 May 2024 Blinken is trying to get Hamas to agree to a truce with Israel for a temporary cease-fire in exchange for the release of additional hostages held captive in Gaza. Joey Garrison, USA TODAY, 3 May 2024 Because of cats’ aversion to water, traditionally the captive cat is splashed with water with the belief that its cries will augur rainfall. Chad De Guzman, TIME, 3 May 2024 His wife was freed in November but his sister remains captive. Sam Mednick, The Christian Science Monitor, 22 Apr. 2024 Jaycee Dugard Jaycee Dugard was held captive for 18 years. Ashlyn Messier, Fox News, 28 Apr. 2024 The captive breeding program Save the Tasmanian Devil has been producing a new population of cancer-free animals. Elizabeth Warkentin, Travel + Leisure, 27 Apr. 2024
Lale’s Escape In both the show and book, Lale arrives on the doorstep of Russian soldiers in Austria and becomes a captive of theirs, tasked with recruiting young women to meet the Russian men. Charna Flam, Peoplemag, 2 May 2024 Hamas has released a video showing footage of two captives held in Gaza, as part of an effort to prove that the two men are still alive. Willem Marx, NPR, 27 Apr. 2024 Our hero naturally takes this as an opportunity to ask her whether she’s been working out rather than, oh, make demands for the nonviolent release of his captives. Michael Nordine, Variety, 26 Apr. 2024 Battered by 175 mph wind speeds, White and his wife rode out the storm inside a hurricane shelter with 120 captive, breeding pairs of parrots, protecting them from the storm. David Schechter, CBS News, 18 Apr. 2024 Many of these people — colonizers, native islanders and captives from distant territories — would not have had a common language. Carina Del Valle Schorske, New York Times, 20 Mar. 2024 Hamas brutalizes children, abuses captives, steals food, fires its rockets indiscriminately, wears no uniforms, and hides behind schools, hospitals, and mosques. Matthew Continetti, National Review, 6 Apr. 2024 Hamas and other militants are still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of about 30 more, after releasing most other captives during a November cease-fire. Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports,, 2 Mar. 2024 Har says the guards did not harass anyone physically, but the captives were most afraid for the 17-year-old girl. Daniel Estrin, NPR, 5 Apr. 2024

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

Word History



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

First Known Use


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


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near captive

Cite this Entry

“Captive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 adjective
: taken and held prisoner especially in war
: held or confined so as to prevent escape
a captive animal
: in a situation that makes free choice or leaving difficult
the airline passengers were a captive audience


2 of 2 noun
: one that is captive : prisoner

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