dis·​cur·​sive di-ˈskər-siv How to pronounce discursive (audio)
: moving from topic to topic without order : rambling
gave a discursive lecture
discursive prose
: proceeding coherently from topic to topic
philosophy : marked by a method of resolving complex expressions into simpler or more basic ones : marked by analytical reasoning
: of or relating to discourse
discursive practices
discursively adverb
discursiveness noun

Did you know?

The Latin verb discurrere meant "to run about", and from this word we get our word discursive, which often means rambling about over a wide range of topics. A discursive writing style generally isn't encouraged by writing teachers. But some of the great 19th-century writers, such as Charles Lamb and Thomas de Quincey, show that the discursive essay, especially when gracefully written and somewhat personal in tone, can be a pleasure to read. And the man often called the inventor of the essay, the great Michel de Montaigne, might touch on dozens of different topics in the course of a long discursive essay.

Examples of discursive in a Sentence

the speaker's discursive style made it difficult to understand his point
Recent Examples on the Web Streisand’s chatty, discursive presence hums on every page. Rachel Syme, The New Yorker, 14 Nov. 2023 In all this, China appears more interested in discursive posturing than actual diplomatic effort. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 14 Nov. 2023 Theirs is not really a movement but a discursive stance with almost no relation to the actual contours of politics. Sam Kriss, Harper's Magazine, 16 Oct. 2023 The results are immersive, delightfully discursive – and thought-provoking. Erin Douglass, The Christian Science Monitor, 12 Oct. 2023 The discursive shifts those movements brought about have manifested themselves in actual policy; those and other protest movements have moreover trained and elevated a generation of progressive leaders who have made an impact as both activists and practitioners of formal politics. Osita Nwanevu, The New Republic, 20 Sep. 2023 Every neighborhood deserves such a discursive portrait, such ruthless devotion and such an audacious book. Lauren Leblanc, Los Angeles Times, 28 Sep. 2023 Through a Zoom screen, King radiates compassion and attunement, and Faber is wry and delightfully discursive; both seem like the mom whose house everybody would hang out at after school. Jessica Winter, The New Yorker, 5 Sep. 2023 Schama begins with a discursive set piece on Voltaire and smallpox that devolves into a series of folk inoculation narratives. Julia M. Klein, BostonGlobe.com, 11 Sep. 2023 See More

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

Word History


borrowed from Medieval Latin discursīvus "showing reasoned thought, logical," from discursus, past participle of discurrere "to range over, discuss" (going back to Latin, "to run off in different directions, [of a mind or speaker] branch out, range") + Latin -īvus -ive — more at discourse entry 1

First Known Use

1595, in the meaning defined at sense 1b

Time Traveler
The first known use of discursive was in 1595

Dictionary Entries Near discursive

Cite this Entry

“Discursive.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discursive. Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


dis·​cur·​sive dis-ˈkər-siv How to pronounce discursive (audio)
: passing from one topic to another
a discursive speech
discursively adverb
discursiveness noun

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