civ·​il ˈsi-vəl How to pronounce civil (audio)
: of or relating to citizens
civil duties
: of or relating to the state or its citizenry
civil strife
: civilized
civil society
: adequate in courtesy and politeness : mannerly
a civil question
It was hard to be civil when I felt so angry.
: of, relating to, or based on civil law
: relating to private rights and to remedies sought by action or suit distinct from criminal proceedings
: established by law
civil freedoms
: of, relating to, or involving the general public, their activities, needs, or ways, or civic affairs as distinguished from special (such as military or religious) affairs
got married in a civil ceremony
of time : based on the theoretical mean sun and legally recognized for use in ordinary affairs
the civil calendar
Esoteric and sometimes outlandish balloons were floated: If we're not going to worry about civil time matching solar time, for instance, why not simplify global timekeeping even more by reducing the number of global time zones from twenty-four to five?Michelle Stacey

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it called a 'civil war'?

The sense of civil found in civil war is not the one meaning "mannerly," or the one meaning "civilized." It is the word’s earliest sense in English, “of or relating to citizens,” as a civil war refers to one between citizens of the same country.

What is civil disobedience?

We define civil disobedience as "refusal to obey governmental demands or commands especially as a nonviolent and usually collective means of forcing concessions from the government." Some notable examples of civil disobedience are the cases of Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin, black women who refused to give up their seats on public buses, when white passengers—and a city ordinance—demanded that they do so.

What is civil service?

A country's civil service is the part of the government that takes care of the government's basic business. It is the administrative part of the government, and independent of the military, and the occupations of its members are neither political nor judicial. In most countries, the term civil service refers to employees selected and promoted on the basis of a merit and seniority system, which may include examinations.

Choose the Right Synonym for civil

civil, polite, courteous, gallant, chivalrous mean observant of the forms required by good breeding.

civil often suggests little more than the avoidance of overt rudeness.

owed the questioner a civil reply

polite commonly implies polish of speech and manners and sometimes suggests an absence of cordiality.

if you can't be pleasant, at least be polite

courteous implies more actively considerate or dignified politeness.

clerks who were unfailingly courteous to customers

gallant and chivalrous imply courteous attentiveness especially to women.

gallant suggests spirited and dashing behavior and ornate expressions of courtesy.

a gallant suitor of the old school

chivalrous suggests high-minded and self-sacrificing behavior.

a chivalrous display of duty

Examples of civil in a Sentence

They got married in a civil ceremony at city hall. It was hard to be civil when I felt so angry. She was barely civil to me.
Recent Examples on the Web Research shows that 85% of people in the civil legal system end up representing themselves. The Sorenson Impact Institute, Forbes, 29 Nov. 2023 One is whether the statutory provisions that give the SEC power to initiate administrative enforcement proceedings seeking civil penalties violate the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial. Kaelan Deese, Washington Examiner, 29 Nov. 2023 When Deutsche Bank loaned Donald Trump’s company hundreds of millions lawyers of dollars, the bank always followed its own guidelines that include checking out information that would-be borrowers provide, an executive testified Tuesday at the former president’s civil fraud trial. Jennifer Peltz, Fortune, 29 Nov. 2023 But opponents and civil society have accused Modi of using the airwaves to push his political agenda. Adil Rashid, WIRED, 28 Nov. 2023 Trump takes the stand: Former President Donald Trump will take the stand in his own defense in his civil fraud trial in New York next month. Mark Murray, NBC News, 28 Nov. 2023 Netflix then depicts what appears to be the 2005 civil ceremony wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, who are now known as King Charles and Queen Camilla, played by Dominic West and Olivia Williams. Janine Henni, Peoplemag, 28 Nov. 2023 The 216th members have supported numerous domestic missions, such as disaster relief efforts in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina, and various active-duty missions across the state in support of civil unrest and natural disasters. Tony Holt,, 23 Nov. 2023 Neither Guzman nor his attorney in the civil suit immediately responded to a request for comment. Noah Goldberg, Los Angeles Times, 23 Nov. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'civil.' 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 Middle French, from Latin civilis, from civis — see civic

First Known Use

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

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

Dictionary Entries Near civil

Cite this Entry

“Civil.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


civ·​il ˈsiv-əl How to pronounce civil (audio)
: of or relating to citizens
civil liberties
: of or relating to the state
civil institutions
: of or relating to ordinary or government affairs rather than to those of the military or the church
: polite without being friendly
gave a civil answer
: relating to court action between individuals having to do with private rights rather than criminal action
a civil suit

Middle English civil "relating to a citizen," from early French civil (same meaning), from Latin civilis "relating to a citizen," from civis "citizen" — related to citizen, city

Legal Definition


civ·​il ˈsi-vəl How to pronounce civil (audio)
: concerning, befitting, or applying to individual citizens or to citizens as a whole
a civil duty
see also civil right
: marked by public order : peaceable in behavior
: of or relating to a legal system based on Roman law as opposed to the English common law
: relating to private rights and to judicial proceedings in connection with them
especially : relating to legal matters other than those characterized as criminal
a civil action
a civil infraction
: defined by law : legal
a civil disability
: of, relating to, or involving the general public, their activities, needs, ways, or civic affairs as distinguished from special (as military or religious) affairs
the civil authorities
the civil service
civilly adverb

Latin civilis, from civis citizen

More from Merriam-Webster on civil

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