pu·​ta·​tive ˈpyü-tə-tiv How to pronounce putative (audio)
: commonly accepted or supposed
: assumed to exist or to have existed
putatively adverb

Did you know?

There's no need to make assumptions about the root behind putative; scholars are quite certain the word comes from Latin putatus, the past participle of the verb putare, which means "to consider" or "to think." Putative has been part of English since the 15th century, and it often shows up in legal contexts. For instance, a "putative marriage" is one that is believed to be legal by at least one of the parties involved. When that trusting person finds out that their marriage is not sanctioned by law, other putare derivatives—such as dispute, reputed, imputation, and deputy—may come into play.

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Putative: Always Before a Noun

Putative is almost always used in front of a noun, the modified noun being that which is assumed or supposed to be. The putative cause of a death, for example, is the one widely believed to have caused it, even when it hasn't been proven or made certain. However, one does not say "the cause was putative."

Examples of putative in a Sentence

This has always been a nation willing to sell out its past for putative progress. Anna Quindlen, Newsweek, 3 June 2002
The putative champions of liberty took up the cry of dissent only after it had become profitable and safe … Lewis H. Lapham, Harper's, June 2000
Back in Hollywood in a few weeks, I was discouraged to find yet another putative director wandering about in the Cowan offices, also unpaid. Arthur Miller, Timebends, 1987
the putative reason for her dismissal was poor job performance
Recent Examples on the Web If Altman was ejected in a boardroom coup, as some have described it, the board’s putative mission and mindset is probably relevant to the events. Nick Lichtenberg, Fortune, 18 Nov. 2023 The director is Wes Ball, director of the Maze Runner film trilogy, and the writer is Derek Connolly, who wrote the Jurassic World trilogy and was tagged to work on a putative Metal Gear film. Kevin Purdy, Ars Technica, 7 Nov. 2023 The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and Comptroller of the Currency on Tuesday published guidance directing banks on how to manage putative climate risks. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 26 Oct. 2023 The odd orbital alignments of icy objects in this region that were initially considered a smoking-gun signature for the putative planet’s gravitational influence could instead be caused by gravity itself behaving against expectations, some researchers say. Nola Taylor Tillman, Scientific American, 25 Oct. 2023 The Prime Minister has gone on television several times to promise revenge and a putative victory, but has not offered words of comfort or hope. TIME, 12 Oct. 2023 Then even the heaviest putative early galaxies in JWST’s mirrors would have had plenty of time to coalesce, says Somerville. Quanta Magazine, 20 Jan. 2023 In 2012, for example, researchers reported a sleep-like state in cuttlefish, as well as a curious, REM-like behavior during that state of putative sleep: Periodically, the animals would move their eyes rapidly, twitch their arms and alter the coloring of their bodies. Carolyn Wilke, Smithsonian Magazine, 13 Sep. 2023 Some Spanish politicians are too annoyed by the putative boorish behavior of the British tourists to exercise restraint. David Segal, New York Times, 20 Aug. 2023 See More

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

Word History


Middle English, from Late Latin putativus, from Latin putatus, past participle of putare to think

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of putative was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near putative

Cite this Entry

“Putative.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/putative. Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.

Legal Definition


pu·​ta·​tive ˈpyü-tə-tiv How to pronounce putative (audio)
: thought, assumed, or alleged to be such or to exist
the child's putative father
ignorantly entered into a putative marriage before the divorce from a previous spouse was final
putatively adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on putative

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