op·​pres·​sive ə-ˈpre-siv How to pronounce oppressive (audio)
: unreasonably burdensome or severe
oppressive legislation
oppressive taxes
the oppressive power of corporations and Wall StreetJim Hightower
: tyrannical
an oppressive government
: overwhelming or depressing to the spirit or senses
an oppressive climate
the dusty drabness that was oppressive in its uneventfulnessGeoffrey Moorhouse
oppressively adverb
oppressiveness noun
Choose the Right Synonym for oppressive

onerous, burdensome, oppressive, exacting mean imposing hardship.

onerous stresses being laborious and heavy especially because distasteful.

the onerous task of cleaning up the mess

burdensome suggests causing mental as well as physical strain.

burdensome responsibilities

oppressive implies extreme harshness or severity in what is imposed.

the oppressive tyranny of a police state

exacting implies rigor or sternness rather than tyranny or injustice in the demands made or in the one demanding.

an exacting employer

Example Sentences

The country is ruled by an oppressive regime. I think these laws are oppressive. This region suffers from oppressive heat in the summer months. The situation was extremely tense; no one said a word, and the silence was oppressive.
Recent Examples on the Web The Cowboys have left the oppressive heat of Texas behind to train in the cool, ocean breezes of Southern California. Dallas News, 25 July 2022 But when the tournament was awarded to Qatar, organizers agreed to move it to November and December to avoid the oppressive desert heat. Patrick Smith, NBC News, 3 Dec. 2022 Migrants face life-threatening challenges when crossing the border, including oppressive heat, dangerous water crossings and the risk of falling from the border wall. Rosa Flores, CNN, 19 Oct. 2022 An oppressive system only divides and fractures everyone. Anjali Enjeti, Harper's BAZAAR, 16 Dec. 2022 The defiant act of cutting hair and burning hijabs on the streets directly questioned the regime's oppressive rules for women, which include wearing a mandatory hijab in public. Fiona Sinclair Scott, Jacqui Palumbo, CNN, 15 Dec. 2022 Protests in China generally are rare and localized to a specific issue but the oppressive zero-COVID policy impacts everyone, says Wu Qiang, a political analyst based in Beijing. Time, 14 Dec. 2022 Women have since abandoned their hijabs and cut their hair in a show of protest to the Khamenei regime’s oppressive practices. Caitlin Mcfall, Fox News, 10 Dec. 2022 People are stepping forward and are willing to die in order to have an alternative life to what is made possible by these oppressive, dictatorial societies. Emma Specter, Vogue, 8 Dec. 2022 See More

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

Word History


borrowed from Middle French & Medieval Latin; Middle French oppressif, borrowed from Medieval Latin oppressīvus, from Latin oppressus, past participle of opprimere "to press on, stifle, overpower" + -īvus -ive — more at oppress

First Known Use

circa 1677, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of oppressive was circa 1677

Dictionary Entries Near oppressive

Cite this Entry

“Oppressive.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oppressive. Accessed 1 Feb. 2023.

Kids Definition


op·​pres·​sive ə-ˈpres-iv How to pronounce oppressive (audio)
: cruel or harsh without just cause
oppressive taxes
: causing a feeling of oppression
oppressive heat
oppressively adverb
oppressiveness noun

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