passive

1 of 2

adjective

pas·​sive ˈpa-siv How to pronounce passive (audio)
1
a(1)
: acted upon by an external agency
(2)
: receptive to outside impressions or influences
b(1)
: asserting that the grammatical subject of a verb is subjected to or affected by the action represented by that verb
the passive voice
(2)
: containing or yielding a passive verb form
c(1)
: lacking in energy or will : lethargic
(2)
: tending not to take an active or dominant part
d
: induced by an outside agency
passive exercise of a paralyzed leg
2
a
: not active or operating : inert
b
: of, relating to, or making direct use of the sun's heat usually without the intervention of mechanical devices
a passive solar house
c
: latent
d
: of, relating to, or characterized by a state of chemical inactivity
especially : resistant to corrosion
e
of an electronic element : exhibiting no gain or control
f
: relating to the detection of an object through its emission of energy or sound
passive sonar
3
a
: receiving or enduring without resistance : submissive
b
: existing or occurring without being active, open, or direct
passive support
4
: of, relating to, or being business activity in which the investor does not actively participate in the generation of income
passively adverb
passiveness noun

passive

2 of 2

noun

pas·​sive ˈpa-siv How to pronounce passive (audio)
1
: a verb form whose grammatical subject is subjected to or affected by the action represented by that verb : a passive verb form
2
: the passive voice of a language
Choose the Right Synonym for passive

inactive, idle, inert, passive, supine mean not engaged in work or activity.

inactive applies to anyone or anything not in action or in operation or at work.

on inactive status as an astronaut
inactive accounts

idle applies to persons that are not busy or occupied or to their powers or their implements.

workers were idle in the fields

inert as applied to things implies powerlessness to move or to affect other things; as applied to persons it suggests an inherent or habitual indisposition to activity.

inert ingredients in drugs
an inert citizenry

passive implies immobility or lack of normally expected response to an external force or influence and often suggests deliberate submissiveness or self-control.

passive resistance

supine applies only to persons and commonly implies abjectness or indolence.

a supine willingness to play the fool

Examples of passive in a Sentence

Adjective The destructive myth/legend of Herbert Hoover strikes again. The nation's 31st President has chronically been portrayed as passive in the face of the Great Depression and his successor, Franklin Roosevelt, as the exact opposite—an activist who, if he didn't actually cure the Depression, at least profoundly improved the nation's battered psychology. Steve Forbes, Forbes, 30 June 2008
He believes that the time has come for Europeans to discard their passive role with respect to the United States and that Americans must be made to understand why. Nicholas Fraser, Harper's, May 2006
Throughout the streets of Moscow last Wednesday, word of the ignominious flight of the Soviet Union's would-be junta brought a sense not of jubilation, but of quiet relief that a bloody civil war had been averted, and of satisfaction that the myth of the passive, obedient Russian people might be laid to rest. Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, 26 Aug.-1 Sept. 1991
“Hits” in “She hits the ball” is active, while “hit” in “The ball was hit” is passive. In “He was hit by the ball,” “hit” is a passive verb.
Recent Examples on the Web
Adjective
Ancora’s Jim Chadwick blamed passive investors for failing to support the investors’ nominees. Josh Funk, Fortune, 9 May 2024 TikTok has provided the template for the algorithmic, passive future of social-media consumption, and other tech companies have leaped to copy it. Kyle Chayka, The New Yorker, 8 May 2024 See all Example Sentences for passive 

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

Word History

Etymology

Adjective and Noun

Middle English, from Latin passivus, from passus, past participle of pati

First Known Use

Adjective

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

Noun

1530, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near passive

Cite this Entry

“Passive.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/passive. Accessed 25 May. 2024.

Kids Definition

passive

1 of 2 adjective
pas·​sive ˈpas-iv How to pronounce passive (audio)
1
a
: not active but acted upon
passive spectators
b
: indicating that the person or thing represented by the subject is acted on by the verb
"was hit" in "he was hit by the ball" is passive
2
a
: not operating
b
: of, relating to, or making use of the sun's heat usually without the aid of mechanical devices
3
: offering no resistance
passively adverb
passiveness noun
passivity noun

passive

2 of 2 noun
1
: a passive verb form
2
: the passive voice

Medical Definition

passive

adjective
pas·​sive ˈpas-iv How to pronounce passive (audio)
1
a(1)
: lethargic or lacking in energy or will
(2)
: tending not to take an active or dominant part
a passive spouse
b
: induced by an outside agency
passive exercise of a paralyzed leg
2
a
: of, relating to, or characterized by a state of chemical inactivity
b
: not involving expenditure of chemical energy
passive transport across a plasma membrane
3
: producing passive immunity
passive immunotherapy
passively adverb
passiveness noun

Legal Definition

passive

adjective
pas·​sive ˈpa-siv How to pronounce passive (audio)
: not involving, deriving from, or requiring effort or active participation
imposed a passive duty not to interfere
specifically : of, relating to, or being business activity in which the investor does not have immediate control over the income-producing activity
passive income
passive losses

Note: Under the Internal Revenue Code, there are two sources of passive income: rental activity and a business in which the taxpayer does not materially participate.

passively adverb
passiveness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on passive

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!