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

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 For civil cases, the statute of limitations would be retroactive back to 1993. Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press, "Sexual assault bills stall in Michigan Senate amid intense lobbying," 13 Mar. 2018 If ratified, the agreement will be retroactive from the start of the 2017-18 school year, Larson said. Vikki Ortiz Healy,, "West Chicago High School teachers, board of education avoid strike with tentative contract agreement," 16 Feb. 2018 What the First Step Act does The bill will make retroactive the reforms enacted by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences at the federal level. German Lopez, Vox, "The Senate just passed criminal justice reform," 19 Dec. 2018 In May, the diocese disclosed in its official newspaper that Danner had been granted a leave of absence retroactive to Dec. 1, 2017 but didn’t explain why. Ryan J. Foley, The Seattle Times, "Diocese removed Iowa priest after girl reported touching," 20 Nov. 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

18 Jan 2019

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Time Traveler for retroactive

The first known use of retroactive was in 1611

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More Definitions for retroactive



English Language Learners Definition of retroactive

: 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).


to settle judicially or to act as judge

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