ret·​ro·​ac·​tive | \ ˌre-trō-ˈak-tiv \

Definition of retroactive

: extending in scope or effect to a prior time or to conditions that existed or originated in the past especially : made effective as of a date prior to enactment, promulgation, or imposition retroactive tax

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Other Words from retroactive

retroactively adverb
retroactivity \ ˌre-​trō-​ˌak-​ˈti-​və-​tē \ noun

Did You Know?

We normally think of time as constantly moving forward. Since retroactive seems to defy time's forward movement, retroactive taxes, laws, and regulations are often seen as particularly obnoxious and unfair. But nobody ever objects to receiving a retroactive raise at work. When we judge historical people and events in terms of present-day morality and attitudes, our retroactive judgments may indicate that we're too impressed with ourselves and ignorant of history.

Examples of retroactive in a Sentence

They all received a retroactive pay raise. The new tax will be retroactive to January 1.

Recent Examples on the Web

The council voted 8-1 to approve the six-year contract, retroactive to 2015. Steve Miletich, The Seattle Times, "Seattle, police union delayed release of ruling to reinstate fired officer until after labor contract was approved," 14 Jan. 2019 The bill passed on Thursday makes retroactive a measure adopted in 2010 that aims at ending the disparity in crack-cocaine and powder-cocaine sentencing. Natalie Andrews, WSJ, "House Passes Criminal-Justice Reform Bill," 20 Dec. 2018 That case was eventually dismissed after Congress gave AT&T and other telecom companies retroactive immunity under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008; similar lawsuits floundered, too. Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica, "The Snowden Legacy, part one: What’s changed, really?," 21 Nov. 2018 Alternatively, if the U.S. and its allies launch a strike before Parliament returns next week, May could still participate and seek retroactive approval from lawmakers. Alex Morales,, "May’s Cabinet Says ‘Vital’ to Respond to Syrian Chemical Attack," 12 Apr. 2018 Alabama law no longer allows judges to override a jury’s recommended sentence in capital cases, but the law is not retroactive. Kim Chandler, The Seattle Times, "Court to explore competency claim of ailing Alabama inmate," 1 Oct. 2018 The South Dakota law upheld by the court wasn’t retroactive, for example, and didn’t require tax collection for businesses with fewer than 200 transactions or less than $100,000 in sales into the state. Jennifer Levitz, WSJ, "New Hampshire Fights Supreme Court Sales-Tax Ruling," 24 July 2018 In 2002, the legislature extended the age limit to 30, but the change was not retroactive. Craig R. Mccoy,, "In largest reported payout yet, Philadelphia Archdiocese settles abuse lawsuit," 25 June 2018 California eliminated the statute of limitations last year on such crimes, but that change is not retroactive. Richard Winton,, "L.A. County prosecutors decline to charge Scott Baio in sexual assault allegations made by a former co-star," 20 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'retroactive.' 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 retroactive

1611, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for retroactive

French rétroactif, from Latin retroactus, past participle of retroagere to drive back, reverse, from retro- + agere to drive — more at agent

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Last Updated

1 Feb 2019

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Time Traveler for retroactive

The first known use of retroactive was in 1611

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English Language Learners Definition of retroactive

formal : effective from a particular date in the past


ret·​ro·​ac·​tive | \ ˌre-trō-ˈak-tiv \

Medical Definition of retroactive

: having relation or reference to or efficacy in a prior time specifically : relating to, caused by, or being obliteration of the results of learning by immediately subsequent activity retroactive inhibition


ret·​ro·​ac·​tive | \ ˌre-trō-ˈak-tiv \

Legal Definition of retroactive

: extending in scope or effect to a prior time or to conditions that existed or originated in the past especially : made effective as of a date prior to enactment, promulgation, or imposition a retroactive tax — see also ex post facto law

Other Words from retroactive

retroactively adverb
retroactivity \ -​ak-​ˈti-​və-​tē \ noun

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More from Merriam-Webster on retroactive

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with retroactive

Spanish Central: Translation of retroactive

Nglish: Translation of retroactive for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of retroactive for Arabic Speakers

Comments on retroactive

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


a servile follower or underling

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