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in·​vec·​tive in-ˈvek-tiv How to pronounce invective (audio)
: insulting or abusive language : vituperation
: an abusive expression or speech


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: of, relating to, or characterized by insult or abuse
invectively adverb
invectiveness noun

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Invective originated in the 15th century as an adjective meaning "of, relating to, or characterized by insult or abuse," but by the early 16th century, it was functioning as a noun referring to a harsh verbal attack, and within a few decades, to abusive language as a whole. Invective is similar to verbal abuse, but in addition to being a more formal term than abuse, invective tends to suggest not only anger and vehemence but also rhetorical skill. It sometimes also implies public denunciation, as in "blistering political invective."

Choose the Right Synonym for invective

abuse, vituperation, invective, obloquy, billingsgate mean vehemently expressed condemnation or disapproval.

abuse, the most general term, usually implies the anger of the speaker and stresses the harshness of the language.

scathing verbal abuse

vituperation implies fluent and sustained abuse.

a torrent of vituperation

invective implies a comparable vehemence but suggests greater verbal and rhetorical skill and may apply to a public denunciation.

blistering political invective

obloquy suggests defamation and consequent shame and disgrace.

subjected to obloquy and derision

billingsgate implies practiced fluency and variety of profane or obscene abuse.

directed a stream of billingsgate at the cabdriver

Examples of invective in a Sentence

Noun a barrage of racist invective hurled curses and invective at the driver who heedlessly cut them off in traffic Adjective an overbearing, bullying boss who is fond of sending invective e-mails to long-suffering assistants
Recent Examples on the Web
Can dollars and cents salve wounds inflicted by steady streams of verbal invective during public comment sessions? Teri Sforza, Orange County Register, 11 May 2024 As the series explains, racist invective has become more common under the platform’s new stewardship. Chris Vognar, Los Angeles Times, 9 May 2024 More perspicacious than angry invective alone, that alchemy of tones has been her signature since the early ’90s, when a 20-something Hanna fronted Bikini Kill, the punk band that became the most visible act associated with the third-wave feminist movement known as riot grrrl. TIME, 7 May 2024 But the monumental scale of destruction in Gaza has breathed new life into Tehran’s anti-Western and anti-Israeli invective. Suzanne Maloney, Foreign Affairs, 8 Apr. 2024 Lady Gaga unleashed a righteous invective against the ugly responses to her International Women’s Day post with trans actor/influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Jon Blistein, Rolling Stone, 11 Mar. 2024 In late 2022, Ye began a public stream of antisemitic invective that, for a while, effectively imploded his career, leading to the dissolution of his partnerships with Adidas and the Gap. Jon Caramanica, New York Times, 2 Mar. 2024 But this dynamic has turned city council meetings into routine spectacles, where public comment drags on for hours and speakers hurl invectives at the seven members sitting on the dais. Reis Thebault, Washington Post, 2 Mar. 2024 Just cutting back on the constant invective and contrived concerns will more than suffice. Dave Brooks, Billboard, 23 Feb. 2024
Still, both would agree that the rise in hostility gave way to a similar rise in invective, leading to barbs with a hateful bite. Ben Croll, Variety, 15 Apr. 2024 Although insults and invective are hardly uncommon in exchanges over COVID’s origins, their contributions have often carried a remarkably noxious tone. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 20 Mar. 2024 These sessions, as many Democrats pointed out, were combative, full of invective, and almost entirely devoid of substance. Jonathan Blitzer, The New Yorker, 17 Feb. 2024 My inbox has been flooded with invective, including death threats. Harry Bruinius, The Christian Science Monitor, 4 Jan. 2024 Unlike him, Laura knows how to fight, to unleash torrents of invective with the unhinged sincerity of authentic passion. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 5 Jan. 2024 Musk made the comments in an extraordinary interview with the Time’s Andrew Ross Sorkin, in which the owner of the platform unleashed a stream of invective and defiance in response to questions about the advertising situation and his role in it. Bykylie Robison, Fortune, 30 Nov. 2023 The girls scratch her name into the walls with their bloodied fingernails and hurl invective at her mother, Chris (Ellen Burstyn), whom Victor has sought out for her counsel on this matter. Katie Walsh, Los Angeles Times, 4 Oct. 2023 It’s all designed to keep us all pointing and shouting invective at each other. cleveland, 14 Sep. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'invective.' 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 invectif, from Middle French, from Latin invectivus, from invectus, past participle of invehere

First Known Use


1523, in the meaning defined at sense 2


15th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of invective was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near invective

Cite this Entry

“Invective.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


: harsh or insulting words

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