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

Usually, the agency places children with a U.S. relative or foster family while their immigration cases are decided., "US to reunite immigrant families as controversy rages," 5 July 2018 Kin & Company is, as its name suggests, run by two relatives. Madeleine Luckel, Vogue, "16 of the Most Innovative Furniture Designers Who Manufacture in the U.S.," 4 July 2018 Arise Africa works closely with children who are orphaned and who live with distant relatives or with elder siblings who are not much older than them. Charlene Santiago, star-telegram, "'We help them have a life that God desires for all man kind'," 26 June 2018 The suit also alleges that officials rejected deliveries of water made by relatives. Monique Judge, The Root, "#Flint: Former Inmates Sue Over Lead-Contaminated Water in Michigan City’s Jail," 26 June 2018 Before Wednesday, children traveling with parents — as well as those who cross on their own —were being separated from their parents and sent to detention centers or placed with relatives or sponsors in the United States. Monique O. Madan, miamiherald, "Trump: 'Immediately' deport undocumented immigrants with 'no judges or court cases'," 24 June 2018 Many unaccompanied minors have been subsequently placed with relatives or guardians already living in the United States. New York Times, "16 and Alone, Inside a Center for Separated Children in New York," 21 June 2018 Migrant children separated from parents are typically housed for almost two months before being placed to live with a relative or foster parents. Renae Reints, Fortune, "Separating Immigrant Families Is Costing Millions More Than Keeping Them Together," 20 June 2018 In a lawsuit, the Life Legal Defense Foundation contends the law lacks safeguards to guarantee reliable determinations of sanity and terminal illness and can be exploited by greedy relatives. Bob Egelko,, "California’s assisted-dying law reinstated three weeks after it was blocked," 15 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

After four months of relative quiet from the special counsel's office, Robert Mueller Friday indicted a dozen Russians for their role in hacking the DNC, DCCC, and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. Brian Barrett, WIRED, "Security Roundup: Ukraine Blocked a Russian Hack of Its Critical Infrastructure," 14 July 2018 Though Oakland County is the Poweshieks' remaining stronghold, that's a relative term. Keith Matheny, Detroit Free Press, "Michigan's most endangered species nears extinction in Oakland County," 13 July 2018 Another relative newcomer,, coaches on campaign strategy and media relations. Joseph Menn, The Christian Science Monitor, "Silicon Valley employees increasingly push companies on ethics," 13 July 2018 That could be a parent, relative living in the U.S., or foster care. Nina Bahadur, SELF, "6 Impactful Ways to Help Migrant Families Separated at the Border," 13 July 2018 Research into the potential benefits of carbohydrate ingestion for soccer performance is in its relative infancy. New York Times, "That Spitting Thing at the World Cup? It’s Probably ‘Carb Rinsing’," 11 July 2018 The tool looks at the ratio of land to home value—dubbed relative building value, or RBV—and determined that 60 to 70 percent is healthy for a new home, but when the RBV drops below 10 percent, the chances for a teardown increase dramatically. Patrick Sisson, Curbed, "How teardowns hurt housing affordability, and how to fix it," 11 July 2018 Exactly a decade ago Apple opened the App Store, a relative afterthought in Steve Jobs’s vision of how customers should use his iPhone, released the previous year. Aaron Pressman, Fortune, "Data Sheet—Celebrating Apple's Lucrative Switcheroo," 11 July 2018 Jones said another relative told him Turnage and Ann Carter had an appointment there and gave Branen Carter a ride. Fox News, "Man shot to death after stabbing relatives in federal office," 10 July 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

7 Nov 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

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).


by force of circumstances

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