rel·​a·​tive | \ˈre-lə-tiv \

Definition of relative 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a word referring grammatically to an antecedent

2 : a thing having a relation to or connection with or necessary dependence on another thing

3a : a person connected with another by blood or affinity

b : an animal or plant related to another by common descent

4 : a relative term



Definition of relative (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : introducing a subordinate clause qualifying an expressed or implied antecedent a relative pronoun also : introduced by such a connective a relative clause

2 : relevant, pertinent matters relative to world peace

3 : not absolute or independent : comparative the relative isolation of life in the country

4 : having the same key signature used of major and minor keys and scales

5 : expressed as the ratio of the specified quantity (such as an error in measuring) to the total magnitude (such as the value of a measured quantity) or to the mean of all the quantities involved

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Synonyms & Antonyms for relative

Synonyms: Noun

cousin, kin, kinsman, relation

Synonyms: Adjective

applicable, apposite, apropos, germane, material, pertinent, pointed, relevant

Antonyms: Noun


Antonyms: Adjective

extraneous, immaterial, impertinent, inapplicable, inapposite, irrelative, irrelevant, pointless

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Examples of relative in a Sentence


At the family reunion, I saw relatives I haven't seen in years. He inherited a small piece of land from a distant relative. The donkey is a relative of the horse.


the relative value of two houses the relative positions of the islands We discussed the relative merits of each school. “Who,” “whom,” “whose,” “which,” and “that” are all relative pronouns. The phrase “that won” in “the book that won” is a relative clause.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Investigators have contacted relatives and friends of those unaccounted for and scoured social-media accounts and databases to try to find them. Erin Ailworth, WSJ, "Authorities End Search Efforts in Paradise, Calif.," 29 Nov. 2018 The numbers were high in part because people, including distant relatives and long-ago friends, called in with incomplete information, Crum said. Janie Har, The Seattle Times, "AP Explains: The hunt for missing, dead in California fire," 21 Nov. 2018 If your relatives are getting together without you, where are those photos most likely to show up? Mattie Quinn, SELF, "10 Tips for Dealing With Family Estrangement During the Holidays," 21 Nov. 2018 There were even guides about how to discuss cryptocurrencies with your relatives at dinner. Rani Molla, Recode, "Don’t be the jerk who brings up bitcoin this Thanksgiving," 20 Nov. 2018 However, based on a 2014 genetic study, the lineage may have split off from their closest relatives, a group of seabirds that today includes albatrosses and petrels, around 60 million years ago. 4. Gemma Tarlach, Discover Magazine, "20 Things You Didn't Know About ... Penguins," 6 Nov. 2018 At the gurdwara in Wisconsin, temple members, among them children, were cooking a langar, or a free community meal, designed to be shared with friends, relatives, and neighbors. Tara Isabella Burton, Vox, "An assailant killed at least 11 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.," 27 Oct. 2018 Unlike its relatives, the meat is shaved off into thin slices and then wrapped in a piece of pita with lettuce, tomato, and onion with lashings of garlic sauce. Lale Arikoglu, Condé Nast Traveler, "A Love Letter To The Döner Kebab," 1 Oct. 2018 Passengers have thrown up, kissed, talked trash about relatives and friends and complained about their bosses in Gargac’s truck. Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica, "Uber, Lyft driver booted after newspaper reveals he was livestreaming passengers," 22 July 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

People’s deeply ingrained worldviews about the relative safety of these dramatic social changes and the world around us, in general, evolved into the key pivot between Republicans and Democrats. Marc J. Hetherington, Vox, "How you think about raising children says a lot about your political views," 29 Nov. 2018 Some of them remain very famous, if reclusive; some of them have updated to Twitter and Instagram; and some of them have blissfully slunk away into relative obscurity. Vogue, "Where Your Favorite Millennial Halloween Movie Stars Are Now," 23 Oct. 2018 But there is one corner of the bond market that can provide at least relative safety, and yet – strangely – many bond investors appear to be avoiding it. Mark Hulbert, USA TODAY, "401(k) investors: Why boring municipal bonds are exciting for investors," 17 June 2018 Investors have been able to buy homes at a relative discount, and steadily rising home prices have created a favorable environment for making short-term investments in buying, renovating, and selling a house. Jeff Andrews, Curbed, "As housing market cools, home flipping shows signs of decline," 5 Nov. 2018 Again, this is mediocre content at absolute best and yet 450k+ people liked it so, IDK, maybe taste is relative? Cady Drell, Marie Claire, "This Week in Timothée Chalamet, October 5 Edition," 5 Oct. 2018 The Westerfeld location was a huge boon for Bishopp, a relative newcomer to filmmaking who grew up in Santa Cruz. Brandon Yu,, "‘Snaggletooth’ fits right into Westerfeld House’s horror heritage in SF," 3 July 2018 Assuming the Hesston case was an aberration, the rest of the Safewise report might still be a reference tool for the relative safety of other municipalities in country. Matt Campbell, kansascity, "Study says two KC area cities among safest in US — but it missed a mass shooting | The Kansas City Star," 24 Apr. 2018 The relative safety that American forces have brought to some Syrians would evaporate. The Economist, "Donald Trump and his advisers cannot agree on a Syria policy," 12 Apr. 2018

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


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Statistics for relative

Last Updated

5 Dec 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for relative

The first known use of relative was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for relative



English Language Learners Definition of relative

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a member of your family

: something that belongs to the same group as something else because of shared characteristics, qualities, etc.



English Language Learners Definition of relative (Entry 2 of 2)

: compared to someone or something else or to each other

: seeming to be something when compared with others

grammar : referring to a noun, a part of a sentence, or a sentence that was used earlier


rel·​a·​tive | \ˈre-lə-tiv \

Kids Definition of relative

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a person connected with another by ancestry or marriage



Kids Definition of relative (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : existing in comparison to something else What is the relative value of the two houses?

2 : relevant Please ask questions relative to the topic.

Other Words from relative

relatively adverb It's been a relatively dry year.



Legal Definition of relative 

1 : not absolute

2 in the civil law of Louisiana : having or allowing some legal effect a relative impediment a relative simulation — see also relative nullity at nullity

Other Words from relative

relatively adverb

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More from Merriam-Webster on relative

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for relative

Spanish Central: Translation of relative

Nglish: Translation of relative for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of relative for Arabic Speakers

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