per·​va·​sive pər-ˈvā-siv How to pronounce pervasive (audio)
: existing in or spreading through every part of something
a pervasive odor
pervasively adverb
pervasiveness noun

Did you know?

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
Recent Examples on the Web All kinds of anti-immigrant sentiment, which sadly is still pervasive. Sarah Khan, Condé Nast Traveler, 5 Apr. 2024 Misogyny and harassment were pervasive, and she was put off by the excessive drinking and debauchery the crowd was known for. Grace Edquist, Vogue, 30 Mar. 2024 See all Example Sentences for pervasive 

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

Word History


see pervade

First Known Use

circa 1750, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of pervasive was circa 1750

Dictionary Entries Near pervasive

Cite this Entry

“Pervasive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


per·​va·​sive pər-ˈvā-siv How to pronounce pervasive (audio)
: spread throughout so thoroughly as to be seen or felt everywhere
the pervasive influence of television
the pervasive dampness of the mines
pervasively adverb
pervasiveness noun
Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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