ref·er·en·dum | \ˌre-fə-ˈren-dəm \
plural referenda\ˌre-fə-ˈren-də \ or referendums

Definition of referendum 

1a : the principle or practice of submitting to popular vote a measure passed on or proposed by a legislative body or by popular initiative

b : a vote on a measure so submitted

2 : a diplomatic agent's note asking for government instructions

Keep scrolling for more

Did You Know?

Referendum is a Latin word, but its modern meaning only dates from the 19th century, when a new constitution adopted by Switzerland stated that the voters could vote directly on certain issues. Thus, a referendum is a measure that's referred (that is, sent on) to the people. Since the U.S. Constitution doesn't provide for referenda (notice the common plural form) at the national level, referenda tend to be on local and state issues. In most locales, a few questions usually appear on the ballot at election time, often involving such issues as new zoning ordinances, new taxes for schools, and new limits on spending.

Examples of referendum in a Sentence

The issue was decided by referendum.

Recent Examples on the Web

Beckham and partner Jorge Mas, a prominent South Florida businessman, were seeking approval from the Miami City Commission to put their latest stadium plan up for a city referendum on Nov. 6. Craig Davis,, "David Beckham, Jorge Mas encounter opposition in latest bid for Miami MLS stadium," 13 July 2018 Midterm elections often act as a referendum on whoever occupies the White House, but in most election years, many voters don’t view their ballot that way. David Lauter,, "Voter interest in the midterm elections stands at a historic high with a singular focus — Trump," 20 June 2018 That all came crashing back down on Tuesday, when Sanford's opponent, political newcomer Katie Arrington, defeated him in a GOP primary battle that largely served as a referendum on his anti-Trump rhetoric. Gregg Re, Fox News, "Ousted Trump-bashing Rep. Mark Sanford acknowledges his political career is likely over," 13 June 2018 Although many Brazilians will see the election as a referendum on Lula’s conviction and incarceration, the issues at stake go beyond that. The Economist, "Lula goes to jail," 8 Apr. 2018 Mr Johnson was the most visible and probably most effective leader of the Brexiteers during the EU referendum campaign in 2016. The Economist, "Boris goes," 10 July 2018 Among the laws that passed: restrictions on when and how school districts can hold referendum votes. Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, "A new public education movement is emerging in Wisconsin, a rebuke to Gov. Walker’s war on labor and school privatization," 3 July 2018 The referendum campaign, which has until Thursday to submit 17,632 valid signatures, expects to blow past that number. Sarah Wu, The Seattle Times, "Head-tax fight hits Seattle’s streets as referendum campaign faces deadline," 11 June 2018 The church was, in fact, largely absent from the referendum campaign., "Final results in Ireland show voters overwhelmingly rejected ban on abortions," 27 May 2018

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

See More

First Known Use of referendum

1847, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

History and Etymology for referendum

New Latin, from Latin, neuter of referendus, gerundive of referre to refer

New Latin, from Latin, neuter of referendus, gerundive of referre to refer

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about referendum

Share referendum

Statistics for referendum

Last Updated

12 Oct 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for referendum

The first known use of referendum was in 1847

See more words from the same year

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for referendum



English Language Learners Definition of referendum

: an event in which the people of a county, state, etc., vote for or against a law that deals with a specific issue : a public vote on a particular issue


ref·er·en·dum | \ˌre-fə-ˈren-dəm \
plural referenda\-də \ or referendums

Kids Definition of referendum

: the practice of voting on an issue


ref·er·en·dum | \ˌrə-fə-ˈren-dəm \
plural referenda\-də \ or referendums

Legal Definition of referendum 

: the submission to popular vote of a measure passed on or proposed by a legislative body or by popular initiative also : the popular vote on a measure so submitted

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on referendum

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


one that holds something together

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Words from Greek and Roman Mythology Quiz

  • the-triumph-of-venus-by-alessandro-magnasco
  • Boreal comes from the name of the ancient Greek god of which wind?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Word Winder's CrossWinder

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.


Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!