sub·​stan·​tive | \ ˈsəb-stən-tiv How to pronounce substantive (audio) ; senses 3c & 4 also səb-ˈstan-tiv How to pronounce substantive (audio) \

Definition of substantive

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : having substance : involving matters of major or practical importance to all concerned substantive discussions among world leaders
2 : considerable in amount or numbers : substantial made substantive progress
3a : real rather than apparent : firm need substantive evidence to prove her guilt also : permanent, enduring
b : belonging to the substance of a thing : essential
c : expressing existence the substantive verb is the verb to be
4a : having the nature or function of a noun a substantive phrase
b : relating to or having the character of a noun or pronominal term in logic
5 : creating and defining rights and duties substantive law — compare procedural
6 : requiring or involving no mordant a substantive dyeing process
7 : being a totally independent entity


sub·​stan·​tive | \ ˈsəb-stən-tiv How to pronounce substantive (audio) \

Definition of substantive (Entry 2 of 2)

: noun broadly : a word or word group functioning syntactically as a noun

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Other Words from substantive


substantively adverb
substantiveness noun


substantivize \ ˈsəb-​stən-​ti-​ˌvīz How to pronounce substantive (audio) \ transitive verb

Did You Know?


Substantive was borrowed into Middle English from the Anglo-French adjective sustentif, meaning "having or expressing substance," and can be traced back to the Latin verb substare, which literally means "to stand under." Figuratively, the meaning of "substare" is best understood as "to stand firm" or "to hold out." Since the 14th century, we have used "substantive" to speak of that which is of enough "substance" to stand alone, or be independent. By the 19th century the word evolved related meanings, such as "enduring" and "essential." It also shares some senses with "substantial," such as "considerable in quantity."

Examples of substantive in a Sentence

Adjective "This was not a drive-by P.R. stunt, and I actually thought it might be," said Representative Zach Wamp, Republican of Tennessee. "It was a substantive, in-depth discussion with our conference, and he's very effective." — Jackie Calmes & Carl Hulse, New York Times, 27 Jan. 2009 The first substantive issue that the Supreme Court considered in its Brown opinion was whether, as originally understood, the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited racial segregation in public schooling. The justices concluded that the historical record was inconclusive. — Randall Kennedy, New Republic, 5 & 12 July 2004 The common critique of art's pleasures and entertainments—that they are trivial, devoid of substantive value, and degrading of art's genuine worth—rests on ignoring this diversity by making two false assumptions: first, that there is basically one kind of aesthetic pleasure in art's entertainment and, secondly, that this pleasure is always a shallow and trivial one, which distracts us from interest in art's real meaning and truth. — Richard Shusterman, Let's Entertain: Life's Guilty Pleasures, 2000 These changes are more symbolic than substantive. No substantive changes were made to the document. There is no substantive reason to change the law.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective In addition, there is a substantive lead time required from the initial concept of what a chip will be and subsequently manufacturing that chip, ultimately becoming available for everyday use. Lance Eliot, Forbes, "Massive Boon In Computer Chip Shortages Will Slam Future Self-Driving Car Rollouts," 2 Mar. 2021 Pickard Chilton declined to speak about the project, and Vocon didn’t respond immediately to a query about whether the team would advocate for substantive engagement with the public prior to the official city review process. Steven Litt, cleveland, "Cryptic site plan for Sherwin-Williams headquarters reveals important questions that call for public input," 1 Mar. 2021 The Equality Act — which was initially approved by the House in 2019 but ignored by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — is the most substantive piece of pro-LGTBQ legislation in history. Lz Granderson, Star Tribune, "A historic bill for LGBTQ rights, but will the pendulum swing again?," 26 Feb. 2021 Still, the careful effort to circumscribe the retaliatory operation risks leaving the impression that Biden opted for a political strike rather than a substantive punishment. Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner, "Biden Syria strikes dodge difficult clash with Iran in Iraq," 26 Feb. 2021 And Haaland, in her new role atop a department that still carries with it the traces of its military instincts, will assuredly bring a great deal of both stylistic and substantive change to the agency and department on this front. Nick Martin, The New Republic, "Deb Haaland’s Ascent and the Complicated Legacy of Native Representation," 22 Feb. 2021 Meanwhile, the company declined to give a substantive 2021 outlook, except to say that the impact of Covid-19 would continue to be material to its results. Laura Forman, WSJ, "Marriott Bets on the ‘Bleisure’ Lifestyle," 22 Feb. 2021 As far as meaningful or substantive conversations between the two sides toward a long-term deal… Not so much. David Moore, Dallas News, "Until Cowboys and Dak Prescott reach a deal everything’s a message to the other side, even when it isn’t," 19 Feb. 2021 The document makes no provision for any papal role in the process, not even a papal right to approve or veto episcopal appointments in China, which was supposed to be the single substantive concession to the Vatican in the agreement. Nina Shea, National Review, "China Betrays Its Deal with the Vatican," 19 Feb. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Obstruction of justice is a crime that is independent of any underlying or substantives crime that may have been committed. Joyce White Vance, Time, "This Might Be the Most Important Exchange in the Mueller Testimony," 25 July 2019

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


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 7


14th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for substantive


Middle English, from Anglo-French sustentif — see substantive entry 2


Middle English substantif, from Anglo-French sustentif, from sustentif, adjective, having or expressing substance, from Late Latin substantivus, from Latin substantia

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Time Traveler for substantive

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The first known use of substantive was in the 14th century

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Last Updated

5 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Substantive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for substantive



English Language Learners Definition of substantive

: important, real, or meaningful
: supported by facts or logic


sub·​stan·​tive | \ ˈsəb-stən-tiv How to pronounce substantive (audio) \

Legal Definition of substantive

1 : of or relating to a matter of substance as opposed to form or procedure a substantive issue the substantive instructions to the jury was dismissed on procedural and substantive grounds — compare procedural
2 : affecting rights, duties, or causes of actions a substantive statutory change a substantive rule of law
3 : existing in its own right specifically : of or relating to a substantive crime the object of a RICO conspiracy is to violate a substantive RICO provision United States v. Elliot, 571 F.2d 880 (1978)

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