res·​tive ˈre-stiv How to pronounce restive (audio)
: stubbornly resisting control : balky
: marked by impatience or uneasiness : fidgety
restively adverb
restiveness noun

Did you know?

Restive ultimately comes from the Anglo-French word rester, meaning "to stop, resist, or remain." In its earliest use, restive meant "sluggish" or "inactive," though this sense is no longer in use. Another early sense was "stubborn, obstinate." Specifically, restive often referred to horses that refused to do as commanded. This general application to unruly horses may have influenced the development of the "fidgety, impatient" sense of restive. Some usage commentators have objected to this newer sense, but it has been in use for well over a century, and is now the more common of the uses.

Choose the Right Synonym for restive

contrary, perverse, restive, balky, wayward mean inclined to resist authority or control.

contrary implies a temperamental unwillingness to accept orders or advice.

a contrary child

perverse may imply wrongheaded, determined, or cranky opposition to what is reasonable or normal.

a perverse, intractable critic

restive suggests unwillingness or inability to submit to discipline or follow orders.

tired soldiers growing restive

balky suggests a refusing to proceed in a desired direction or course of action.

a balky witness

wayward suggests strong-willed capriciousness and irregularity in behavior.

a school for wayward youths

Examples of restive in a Sentence

the restive horse threw its head and refused to move when the rider urged it forward spent a restive night worrying about the next day's exam
Recent Examples on the Web Not to mention, even closer, about nine miles to the west, there’s the increasingly restive supervolcano known as Campi Flegrei (or Burning Fields), much of which lies beneath the Bay of Naples. Ligaya Mishan Anthony Cotsifas Emily Woo Zeller Tanya Pérez Quinton Kamara, New York Times, 13 May 2024 The senator had been under increasing pressure from the restive, and at times hostile wing of his party that has aligned firmly with Trump. Michael Tackett, Fortune, 28 Feb. 2024 The Republican speaker -- first Kevin McCarthy and now Johnson -- has worked to appease that restive group, agreeing to tailor the spending bills to its demands, even though many of its members have rarely, if ever, supported appropriations bills during their time in Congress. Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports,, 28 Feb. 2024 But over the years, eradication programs in Laos and China combined with the U.S. War on Terror saw opium production shift to restive Afghanistan. TIME, 21 Mar. 2024 But rank-and-file members have grown increasingly restive in recent years, voting overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing a strike in October 2021. Christi Carras, Los Angeles Times, 4 Mar. 2024 Both are restive, mineral-rich, and largely underdeveloped. Asif Shahzad and Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam, The Christian Science Monitor, 19 Jan. 2024 The fighting quickly spread across the African country, especially urban areas but also the restive western Darfur region, and has so far killed at least 12,000 people and sent over 8 million fleeing from their homes. Deng MacHol, Quartz, 28 Feb. 2024 The exercise, the first for the island city of Ishigaki — closer to China and Taiwan than to the Japanese mainland — is being repeated across the country as increasingly restive neighbors heighten concerns about war. Stephanie Yang, Los Angeles Times, 28 Feb. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'restive.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English restyf, from Anglo-French restif, from rester to stop, resist, remain

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of restive was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near restive

Cite this Entry

“Restive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


res·​tive ˈres-tiv How to pronounce restive (audio)
: stubbornly fighting control : balky
a restive horse
: showing impatience or uneasiness : fidgety
the crowd grew restive
restively adverb
restiveness noun

More from Merriam-Webster on restive

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