re·​flex·​ive | \ ri-ˈflek-siv How to pronounce reflexive (audio) \

Definition of reflexive

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : directed or turned back on itself also : overtly and usually ironically reflecting conventions of genre or form a reflexive novel
b : marked by or capable of reflection : reflective
2 : of, relating to, characterized by, or being a relation that exists between an entity and itself the relation "is equal to" is reflexive but the relation "is the father of" is not
3 : of, relating to, or constituting an action (as in "he perjured himself") directed back on the agent or the grammatical subject
4 : characterized by habitual and unthinking behavior



Definition of reflexive (Entry 2 of 2)

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Other Words from reflexive


reflexively adverb
reflexiveness noun
reflexivity \ ˌrē-​ˌflek-​ˈsi-​və-​tē How to pronounce reflexivity (audio) , ri-​ \ noun

Examples of reflexive in a Sentence


In “I hurt myself,” the verb “hurt” is reflexive. In the sentence “We forced ourselves to finish the assignment,” the word “ourselves” is a reflexive pronoun. For many people, the reflexive response to this kind of demand is to say no. music that triggers reflexive toe tapping
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

An Anthology, coined terms for two types of monogamy: reflexive and radical. Zachary Zane, Allure, "Being in a Polyamorous Relationship Prepared Me for Monogamy," 17 June 2019 Long-term indulgence of the PLO’s recalcitrance has had the effect of allowing a toxic and reflexive anti-Israel sentiment to build in international institutions, not least among academics and students on U.S. campuses. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Shutting Down the PLO," 10 Sep. 2018 According to National Geographic, when a snake is decapitated, its head still has the capacity to carry out reflexive action, such as being able to open its mouth, bite and inject large amounts of venom., "Father of Two Nearly Dies After Being Bitten By Rattlesnake's Severed Head: 'It Was Very Scary'," 7 June 2018 Critically, this is more than just a series of misjudgments or even a reflexive overestimation of the utility of military force. Matthew Yglesias, Vox, "The Weekly Standard’s demise is a reminder that there are some ideas worse than Trumpism," 5 Dec. 2018 Before his untimely death last year, Rosling (with his son and daughter-in-law as co-authors) published a magnificent book arguing against such reflexive pessimism. Matt Ridley, WSJ, "Why Is It So Cool to Be Gloomy?," 15 Nov. 2018 George Soros has this great notion of a reflexive asset. Eric Johnson, Recode, "Startup advisor Elad Gil is worried that we’re losing our ability to be optimistic about tech," 20 Aug. 2018 From the start, these groups were both productive and self-reflexive. Nancy Baym, WIRED, "Book Excerpt: How Music Fans Built the Internet," 10 July 2018 Once upon a time, it was assumed that a dog’s facial expressions were reflexive. NBC News, "To owners, “fur babies” are babies for real.," 3 Nov. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'reflexive.' 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 reflexive


1615, in the meaning defined at sense 1b


1866, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for reflexive


Medieval Latin reflexivus, from Latin reflexus

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Statistics for reflexive

Last Updated

24 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for reflexive

The first known use of reflexive was in 1615

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More Definitions for reflexive



English Language Learners Definition of reflexive

grammar : showing that the action in a sentence or clause happens to the person or thing that does the action
: happening or done without thinking as a reaction to something


re·​flex·​ive | \ ri-ˈflek-siv How to pronounce reflexive (audio) \

Medical Definition of reflexive

: characterized by habitual and unthinking behavior also : relating to or consisting of a reflex

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More from Merriam-Webster on reflexive

Spanish Central: Translation of reflexive

Nglish: Translation of reflexive for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of reflexive for Arabic Speakers

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