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

The discussions continue even as violence across the country remains pervasive, with the Taliban controlling more territory than at any point since 2001. Anchorage Daily News, "U.S. prepares Afghanistan troop cuts in potential deal with Taliban," 2 Aug. 2019 The discussions continue even as violence across the country remains pervasive, with the Taliban controlling more territory than at any point since 2001. Dan Lamothe, Washington Post, "U.S. preparing to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan in initial deal with Taliban," 2 Aug. 2019 Even when society and its laws do not explicitly discriminate against any one group, Crenshaw argues, discrimination and oppression are still pervasive, sown into the very fabric of society itself. Nate Hochman, National Review, "The Limits of Intersectionality," 10 July 2019 Getty Images Biphobia or bisexual erasure—the still-pervasive attitude that bisexuality isn’t real or makes a person less LGBTQ than those who identify as gay or lesbian—can have a serious impact on my community’s health. Anne Shanen, Marie Claire, "Why Do I Feel So Left Out During Pride Month?," 26 June 2019 Sixth Tone also notes that Chinese clients are likely influenced by neighboring South Korea, where European and K-pop beauty standards—big eyes, slim noses, etc.—are pervasive, and about one-third of women under 30 have had plastic surgery. Sangeeta Singh-kurtz, Quartzy, "Plastic surgery clients are getting younger—and doctors say selfies are to blame," 18 June 2019 Snyder’s tone of prophetic certainty and his bombastic call for resistance against the dark and all-pervasive forces of Russian neofascism is illuminating more as a symptom of the times than as a work of history. Adam Tooze, The New York Review of Books, "Democracy and Its Discontents," 6 June 2019 The gender imbalance in mathematics is long-standing and pervasive, and the Fields Medal, in particular, is ill-suited to the career arcs of many female mathematicians. Quanta Magazine, "A Tenacious Explorer of Abstract Surfaces," 12 Aug. 2014 Namely, the money will not be used to stop the pervasive surveillance, data gobbling and hard-to-understand privacy problems that make consumers feel so helpless. Jeff John Roberts, Fortune, "How Facebook’s $5 Billion Fine Should Be Spent," 20 July 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

6 Aug 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for pervasive

The first known use of pervasive was circa 1750

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More Definitions for pervasive



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).


marked by turns or indirection

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