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 substantivize (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 The caucuses create many moments like that — some trivial, like the one just told, and some substantive, like when Senator Warren was challenged on her student-loan plan. Charlie Szold, National Review, "Keep Politics Fun; Save the Iowa Caucuses," 11 Feb. 2020 This is no reflection on the age of the Academy’s voters (as reviews prove, there’s no shortage of young aesthetic conservatives, either) but, rather, on the industry’s over-all protectionism—stylistic as well as substantive. Richard Brody, The New Yorker, "The Fossilized 2020 Oscar Nominations," 13 Jan. 2020 Many Twitter users took up my charge that the Hall try to correct course with a symbolic and substantive move of nominating only women this year, particularly all-female bands. Evelyn Mcdonnell, Billboard, "It's Time For the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to Address Its Gender and Racial Imbalances (Guest Op-Ed)," 15 Nov. 2019 The company left the second Fast ring for the more substantive Spring 2020 feature update, also known as 20H1. Mark Hachman, PCWorld, "Windows 10's 19H2 Fall 2019 Update takes possibly its last step before a formal release," 24 Sep. 2019 Yet contracting records indicate that officials had a more substantive role in mind for the Ardelle temps: they might be asked to summarize comments. Ian Macdougall, ProPublica, "Trump’s NLRB, Trying to Cut Protections for Millions of Temps and Fast-Food Workers, Trips Up Again," 16 Sep. 2019 Still, officials said the White House counsel's office was briefed on some of the substantive claims. Author: Zeke Miller, Anchorage Daily News, "News of Bolton book sends jolt through impeachment trial," 27 Jan. 2020 The injection of vitriol undercuts the substantive political critique that is supposed to occur during these segments. Bill Goodykoontz, azcentral, "After being trashed in the Times and taking McSally to task, Meghan McCain is heading home," 17 Jan. 2020 So far, Apple has not given any substantive assistance. Time, "Apple Is Once Again Under Pressure to Help the FBI Unlock a Shooter's iPhone. Here's What to Know," 16 Jan. 2020 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

15 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Substantive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2020.

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More Definitions for substantive


How to pronounce substantive (audio) How to pronounce substantive (audio)

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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