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

cousin, kin, kinsman, relation

Synonyms: Adjective

almost, approximate, comparative, near

Antonyms: Noun


Antonyms: Adjective

absolute, complete, downright, out-and-out, outright, perfect, pure, unqualified

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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

The shooting — which sent scores of panicked shoppers running and prompted a huge police response — left one man dead and two of the man’s relatives in critical condition, authorities said. James Queally,, "Costco shooting: Police say officer holding child was attacked and opened fire," 16 June 2019 Tension boiled over during the May 14 Vallejo City Council meeting as McCoy’s relatives, along with the family members of Angel Ramos and Ronell Foster, demanded the council take action against the police department. Nate Gartrell, The Mercury News, "Vallejo city attorney says media has it in for the city," 15 June 2019 Cheek kissing, previously relegated to intimate friends and relatives pre-World War II, started running rampant in the 1960s with the social revolution. Judith Martin, Washington Post, "Miss Manners: Let’s all shake hands instead," 15 June 2019 Three members of the family who brought the virus into Uganda have died after attending the burial of an infected relative, a popular pastor, in Congo. Jamey Keaten,, "UN says Ebola outbreak in Congo still not a global emergency," 14 June 2019 From childhood friends, to relatives, to coworkers, to new Florida friends. Steve West,, "Celebrating a milestone | Opinion," 14 June 2019 Once a tenant moves out—which doesn’t happen often since folks can pass on the entitlement to friends and relatives—landlords would be required to offer the unit to another tenant at restricted rates. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Albany Goes Wild," 13 June 2019 Those who benefitted from the spending included children, relatives, friends and even the family pet, the grand jury said. NBC News, "GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter's wife pleads guilty in corruption case," 13 June 2019 Minutes later, Lewis walked out of the house, where she was met by relatives, the witness told police. Olivia Prentzel,, "Woman booked in connection with fatal shooting of 23-year-old in New Orleans East," 12 June 2019

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

And the gap keeps increasing, in part because western Germany receives more immigrants; in the east, both the relative poverty and the popularity of anti-immigrant political forces scare them away. Leonid Bershidsky, Twin Cities, "Leonid Bershidsky: Depopulation Is Eastern Germany’s curse," 18 June 2019 As for moving up, the player beyond the Heat's range who intrigues and could come at a relative low cost in a pick swap is Cam Reddish. Ira Winderman,, "ASK IRA: Should the Heat bid for the Pelicans’ No. 4 pick?," 17 June 2019 The country once granted transit visas with relative ease. Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, "Threatened by Trump, Mexico is trying to reinforce its southern border. Wide gaps remain.," 13 June 2019 Pop culture is studded with portrayals of the phenomenon: Witness Gone Girl’s Amy smoothly talk her way into the relative safety of her estranged ex’s home. Andrea Bartz, Marie Claire, "Sometimes I Exploit My Sexuality and I'm Not Sorry," 25 Feb. 2019 But summer league does have value in exploring young players' relative strengths and weaknesses heading into training camp in September. Rick Bonnell, charlotteobserver, "Hornets takeaways from Vegas on a trimmer Miles Bridges, a savvy Devonte Graham, more," 10 July 2018 Research into how the amygdala responds as people assess the relative importance of differences, such as race, is nuanced and complex. Leslie Henderson, Scientific American, "Why Our Brains See the World as "Us" versus "Them"," 22 June 2018 That's especially true given that Hani's brought on a relative unknown in chef Mark Bestmann, a newcomer late of Boston enoteca Coppa prior to a brief stop on the line at Bad Hunter. Mike Sula, Chicago Reader, "Saba is stealthy Italian that might surprise traditionalists," 31 May 2018 The relative importance of farms, agribusinesses (such as seed and fertilizer suppliers), packagers and processors have also fallen slightly since 1993. Caitlin Dewey,, "Farmers reap just pennies of total food cost, study finds," 2 May 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

20 Jun 2019

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 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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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

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 take the place or position of

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