per·​va·​sive | \pər-ˈvā-siv, -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

The popularity of the Skin-Care Diet is so pervasive that even K-pop stars follow it. Devon Abelman, Allure, "Why Koreans Are Ditching Their Famous 10-Step Routines for the Skin-Care Diet," 29 Sep. 2018 For a company that admittedly imagined their primary customer base would be Hijabi, Hispanic, and Black women, these declarations were bold moves in light of the colorism and homophobia that is pervasive within these communities. Amira Rasool, Teen Vogue, "MOGA Creative Director Explains Their No White Models Policy," 17 July 2018 Former Councilman Jason White said the charter was written to guard against the favoritism that was pervasive in city hiring practices before professional administrators were brought in to run city government in a more businesslike matter. Steve Vockrodt And Mike Hendricks, kansascity, "Acting director of Independence Power & Light to resign after fractious city meeting," 27 June 2018 This fear is so pervasive, so insidious, that black people are being reprimanded for merely living. Felice León, The Root, "Can We Live While Black?," 27 June 2018 According to the report, which was included in the JCPS audit, physical abuse, humiliation and neglect were pervasive in the district's Head Start programs, jeopardizing student safety and federal funding. Mandy Mclaren, The Courier-Journal, "State takeover of JCPS: What the audit says and the district has done," 7 May 2018 Jeanie Donovan, policy director for the Louisiana Budget Project, said the legislation should not cause a significant amount of debt for schools because the issue is not pervasive in Louisiana. Wilborn P. Nobles Iii,, "Miami mulls school-based apartments for struggling teachers: report," 30 Mar. 2018 The retailer Magazine Luiza SA last year went above and beyond protecting its employees from workplace matters, setting up a hotline for those who are victims of domestic violence, which is pervasive in Brazil., "Trump Orders Commerce Department to Consider Probe on Auto Imports," 8 Mar. 2018 The fibers are so pervasive that they have been found in drinking water around the world, including in 94 percent of tap water tested in the U.S. according to a recent study from researchers at the University of Minnesota. Mandy Ferreira, Sunset, "9 Things You Can Do to Stop Ocean Plastic Pollution," 22 Jan. 2018

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

12 Nov 2018

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).


to clear from alleged fault or guilt

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