rel·​a·​tive | \ ˈre-lə-tiv How to pronounce relative (audio) \

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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms & Antonyms for relative

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Noun

Antonyms: Adjective

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

Examples of relative in a Sentence

Noun 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. Adjective 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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun When the relative arrived, the friend was still there. Andrea Cavallier, NBC News, "Community comes together to search for Selena Shelley Faye Not Afraid missing from Montana rest area since New Year's Day," 14 Jan. 2020 There were quite a few Wiley relatives, but seemingly only one who had moved to Burbank, California: Grandma Wiley’s granddaughter, Linda Kuckuk, who’d worked in video editing. oregonlive, "Heirloom set of wedding rings returned after 17 years thanks to some sleuthing and Inside Edition (Column)," 13 Jan. 2020 Police conducted a welfare check for JJ -- Vallow's adopted son with her late husband -- on November 26 at their home in Rexburg, Idaho, after relatives raised concern about not hearing from him since September. Amir Vera, CNN, "Brother of missing Idaho siblings' stepfather pleads for his cooperation in investigation," 13 Jan. 2020 After the event, Velmil Clay, 76, walked with relatives behind the school, past homes built on land that once was his grandmother’s farm. Vincent T. Davis,, "Conservationists and descendants explore forgotten San Antonio African American cemetery," 12 Jan. 2020 Thousands of people have been cruelly and unreasonably separated from relatives because of the already existing ban. Jonathan Lemire, Time, "White House Considering Dramatic Expansion of Travel Ban," 11 Jan. 2020 Some felt like poor relatives magnanimously invited to someone else’s feast, but seated at the end of the table, and judged. The Economist, "The ironies of revolution A love affair with liberal democracy that soured," 9 Jan. 2020 The starfish relatives can recognize patterns using photoreceptors on their arms—and their color-changing abilities could have something to do with it. Christopher Intagliata reports. Christopher Intagliata, Scientific American, "Brittle Stars Can 'See' Without Eyes," 9 Jan. 2020 The Chinese paddlefish was one of only two paddlefish species in existence; the only remaining relative is the American paddlefish, a vulnerable species found in the Mississippi River Basin in the United States. National Geographic, "The Chinese paddlefish, one of world's largest fish, has gone extinct," 8 Jan. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective What’s more, the grays would give even if their partner wasn’t a close friend or relative. Virginia Morell, Science | AAAS, "These parrots are the first birds observed showing kindness to others," 9 Jan. 2020 Pro-wall or anti-wall is not the question but reasonable rates and costs are relative, and this cost seems fairly reasonable. Letter Writers, Twin Cities, "Letters: Budget surplus? Expect new programs of questionable merit that will live forever," 11 Dec. 2019 The most contentious bill of the session remained on the agenda, though, and the relative peace between the parties didn’t last long. oregonlive, "A decade in review: the biggest Oregon news of the last 10 years," 31 Dec. 2019 Weaknesses were -- in relative terms -- exposed via injury, unexpected transfers and the cumulative effect of early exits to the NFL. Michael Casagrande |, al, "Analyzing how Alabama recruiting class will fix the issues that troubled 2019," 19 Dec. 2019 Police banned mass marches as protests turned increasingly violent, but relented and allowed Sunday's march after a few weeks of relative peace. Fox News, "Massive rally in Hong Kong marks six months of protests," 9 Dec. 2019 Across the democratic world today, people have never been so wealthy, healthy and living in relative peace. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Time, "I Led One of the Happiest Countries in the World. Here's What Other Democracies Could Learn From Our Model," 27 Nov. 2019 This way, customers shop at relative peace rather than battling to get to sale items. Georgann Yara, azcentral, "Independent Scottsdale toy store Kidstop Toys & Books brings ‘magic’ to Valley children," 24 Nov. 2019 All that changed: the personnel, which led to a better (this is a relative term) second half. Chris Fedor, cleveland, "Cleveland Cavaliers considering starting lineup change; What could it be?," 21 Nov. 2019

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.

See More

First Known Use of relative


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about relative

Time Traveler for relative

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for relative

Last Updated

17 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Relative.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 23 January 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for relative


How to pronounce relative (audio)

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 How to pronounce relative (audio) \

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

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on relative

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


out of the ordinary or unreasonable

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Intact Latin Quiz

  • roman tablet
  • What did focus mean in Latin?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

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!