per·​va·​sive | \ pər-ˈvā-siv How to pronounce pervasive (audio) , -ziv\

Definition of pervasive

: existing in or spreading through every part of something a pervasive odor

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Other Words from pervasive

pervasively adverb
pervasiveness noun

Is pervasive always negative?

Pervasive is most often used of things we don't really want spreading throughout all parts of something:

a pervasive problem

a stench that is pervasive

pervasive corruption

But pervasive can occasionally also be found in neutral and even positive contexts:

a pervasive rhythm

a pervasive sense of calm

The meaning isn't neutral when the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) uses it. Beginning in the early 1990s, the MPAA started giving the R rating to movies with "pervasive language." Most movies have language throughout, of course. The MPAA is using the phrase "pervasive language" to refer to the frequent use of a particular kind of language: profanity.

Examples of pervasive in a Sentence

A resuscitated orthodoxy, so pervasive as to be nearly invisible, rules the land. — Mark Slouka, Harper's, November 2004 The manic money-grab excitement of the Nineties had never been altogether free of our pervasive American guilt. — Norman Mailer, New York Review of Books, 27 Mar. 2002 Race was never articulated as an issue at the trial, even though its presence was pervasive. — Howard Chua-Eoan, Time, 6 Mar. 2000 the pervasive nature of the problem television's pervasive influence on our culture
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Recent Examples on the Web

Discriminatory practices in technology are pervasive. Greses Perez, The Mercury News, "Opinion: How technology discriminates against half of our population," 16 Aug. 2019 As uncertainty about the future trading regime is pervasive, businesses have cut their outlook and their investment plans. Washington Post, "US-China trade war leaves Europe as collateral damage," 12 Aug. 2019 Similar sentiments were pervasive throughout many European nations. Noelle Swan, The Christian Science Monitor, "Whose independence? Why some Native Hawaiians don’t celebrate on July 4.," 2 July 2019 Among the most pervasive, however, were phthalates—a group of chemicals, including DEHP and DIBP, that make plastic soft and malleable. National Geographic, "Dollar stores moving to pull dangerous plastics from shelves," 24 May 2019 In barbershops and coffee klatches Fox News has become pervasive, if not ubiquitous, and impossible to avoid even for someone like me who doesn’t have, much less watch, cable TV. al, "Seeking refuge from ‘the Alien’ invasion," 6 Aug. 2019 These patterns are pervasive enough that US lawmakers have proposed a bill to ban certain varieties. Amanda Shendruk, Quartz, "These are the shady tricks shopping sites use to get your money and info," 12 Aug. 2019 By contrast, Lasix is almost as pervasive as hay at U.S. tracks. Tim Sullivan, The Courier-Journal, "Even as top trainers issue letter of support for reform bill, horse racing remains at odds," 9 Aug. 2019 Gangsters traveling into the city to commit crimes is not pervasive throughout Los Angeles, Moore said. Los Angeles Times, "Two Temecula residents face murder charges in fatal shooting of LAPD Officer Juan Diaz," 6 Aug. 2019

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

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First Known Use of pervasive

circa 1750, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for pervasive

see pervade

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Statistics for pervasive

Last Updated

17 Sep 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for pervasive

The first known use of pervasive was circa 1750

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English Language Learners Definition of pervasive

: existing in every part of something : spreading to all parts of something

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Comments on pervasive

What made you want to look up pervasive? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


formidable, illustrious, or eminent

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