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

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Synonyms & Antonyms for relative

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Noun

Antonyms: Adjective

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The mother of six boys, whose souvenir shop in the Grand Bahama city of Freeport was flooded, was already tense from temporarily residing in a small house with five other relatives. Washington Post, "Struggling for a way forward after hurricane’s devastation," 14 Sep. 2019 With his father being a teacher and several other relatives being teachers and nurses, a career serving as a firefighter seemed a good fit. Hank Beckman,, "Retiring La Grange firefighter recognized for 26 years of service," 11 Sep. 2019 Woodard is survived by her parents: Rev. Martha Harvey and Mr. Willie Woodard, Jr. (Dr. Narva Woodard); brother: Willie Woodard, Jr.; other relatives and friends., "Deaths in Central Florida: 8/29," 29 Aug. 2019 Between him and other relatives, this family has racked up a century of service in the U.S. military, his daughter Linda Kay Shaw said. Donovan Slack, USA TODAY, "Exclusive: Second homicide identified in string of deaths at VA hospital; family 'floored'," 28 Aug. 2019 Many other royal relatives, including Prince Edward, Sophie Countess of Wessex, Princess Anne, Camilla, and Peter and Autumn Phillips were also seen traveling to Sunday services. Caroline Hallemann, Town & Country, "Kate Middleton, Prince William, and the Cambridge Kids Return From Their Vacation in Scotland," 28 Aug. 2019 The son of Percy and Ruby (Lightbody) McFarlane, Bryan is survived by his companion, children, grandchildren, siblings, other relatives and close friends., "Deaths in South Florida: 8/25," 25 Aug. 2019 Other relatives present included Prince Philip, Princess Anne, Peter Phillips, his wife Autumn Phillips, and their daughters. Erica Gonzales, Harper's BAZAAR, "Kate Middleton and Prince William Lunch with the Queen in Laid-Back Looks," 23 Aug. 2019 Multnomah County prosecutors on Monday charged the sister of Deante Strickland with fatally shooting the Portland State University athlete and wounding two other relatives., "Deante Strickland’s sister charged in PSU athlete’s murder," 12 Aug. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective And, yet, the evidence suggests that the public still sees Trump as the relative moderate of his campaign, not the hard conservative of his government. David Lauter, Los Angeles Times, "Democrats are missing an opportunity to brand Trump as too conservative, poll suggests," 13 Sep. 2019 The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, grew out of secret talks President Barack Obama’s administration held with Iran after President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, took office. Washington Post, "AP EXPLAINS: Iran’s nuclear program as atomic deal unravels," 7 Sep. 2019 Now a 294-pound redshirt junior defensive tackle, Johnson has traveled a path at IU from relative obscurity to big expectations over the past 3 ½ years. Zach Osterman, Indianapolis Star, "IU was Jerome Johnson's only FBS offer. Now the small-town Mississippi big man is repaying Tom Allen's faith," 8 Aug. 2019 Part of Klobuchar’s strategy has been to position herself as a relative moderate in the crowded field that has often many seen of its highest profile candidates racing leftward on issues ranging from immigration to health care. Dave Orrick, Twin Cities, "In Democratic debate, Amy Klobuchar focused more on Trump than Sanders or Warren," 30 July 2019 The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, grew out of secret talks President Barack Obama's administration held with Iran after Rouhani, a relative moderate, took office. Fox News, "AP EXPLAINS: Iran's nuclear program as 2015 deal unravels," 17 June 2019 Joe Biden, the relative moderate, is subject to these forces. Rich Lowry, National Review, "The Climate Trap for Democrats," 14 June 2019 Vanguard's High-Dividend Yield fund, with $34 billion in net assets, is up 13% this year—not bad but still a relative under-performer. Kevin Kelleher, Fortune, "This Little Noticed S&P Index Is Up 25% This Year—and Offers a Hedge Against Wild Market Swings," 5 Sep. 2019 McKay said Haden was likely referring to donors or other families who commonly asked Haden for help getting a relative or friend into USC. Los Angeles Times, "How Rick Singer tried to rope in USC legend Pat Haden amid admissions scandal," 30 Aug. 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.

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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

24 Oct 2019

Time Traveler for relative

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

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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

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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).


to spread as a report or rumor

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