1 of 2


sub·​stan·​tive ˈsəb-stən-tiv How to pronounce substantive (audio)
senses 3c & 4 also
səb-ˈstan-tiv How to pronounce substantive (audio)
: having substance : involving matters of major or practical importance to all concerned
substantive discussions among world leaders
: considerable in amount or numbers : substantial
made substantive progress
: real rather than apparent : firm
need substantive evidence to prove her guilt
: belonging to the substance of a thing : essential
: expressing existence
the substantive verb is the verb to be
: having the nature or function of a noun
a substantive phrase
: relating to or having the character of a noun or pronominal term in logic
: creating and defining rights and duties
substantive law
compare procedural
: requiring or involving no mordant
a substantive dyeing process
: being a totally independent entity
substantively adverb
substantiveness noun


2 of 2


sub·​stan·​tive ˈsəb-stən-tiv How to pronounce substantive (audio)
: noun
broadly : a word or word group functioning syntactically as a noun
substantivize transitive verb

Did you know?

Substantive and substantial are quite a pair: the two have multiple similar meanings, can both ultimately be traced back to the same Latin root (the verb substare, whose figurative meaning is best understood as “to stand firm” or “to hold out”), and both made their first appearance in English sometime in the 14th century. But though they can be used interchangeably in some contexts (one can make “substantive progress” or “substantial progress,” for example), we usually use substantial to describe things that are large in size, scope, or extent (e.g., “a substantial amount,” “substantial increase”), while substantive is more likely to be used as a synonym of significant, real, or important. Substantive change, for example, is change that makes a fundamental difference, regardless of its size. Substantive also functions in grammar-related contexts describing or referring to nouns and noun phrases.

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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web
This latest delay was last minute enough where nothing too substantive could be concocted for the midway point like a 30th Anniversary Pack. Paul Tassi, Forbes, 21 Feb. 2024 The San Francisco resolution was touted as historic by the board, but during the public comment period numerous San Franciscans — including some on the African American Reparations Advisory Committee — expressed skepticism that an apology would lead to more substantive action. Noah Goldberg, Los Angeles Times, 16 Feb. 2024 The court gave Trump until February 12 to file an emergency stay request with the Supreme Court, which would stop the clock while his attorneys craft a more substantive appeal on the merits. Andrew Torgan, CNN, 11 Feb. 2024 But with Post’s market cap of $6 billion and Walmart’s $457 billion, the suit is more symbolic than financially substantive. Laura Bratton, Quartz, 8 Feb. 2024 There was apparently no substantive discussion by the board or its compensation committee about the size of the package, no serious evaluation of alternatives, no peer comparison study used to evaluate it. Alan Murray, Fortune, 1 Feb. 2024 Scientists who were not involved in the new research aren’t convinced that these distinctions are substantive enough to merit declaring the specimen a new species, however. Meghan Bartels, Scientific American, 11 Jan. 2024 Expect this debate to get heated and be substantive. Eliza Collins, WSJ, 11 Jan. 2024 To the growing consternation of both red hats and FSOs, the substantive parts of the conversation were conducted entirely in . . . Neal B. Freeman, National Review, 7 Feb. 2024
First Acts: From the symbolic to the substantive, here is a look at what nine new governors elected last year have done in their first weeks in office. Maggie Astor, New York Times, 30 Jan. 2023 With his substantive, agreeably granular bass, David Grogan gave prophetic warnings real authority. Dallas News, 23 Dec. 2022 California’s climate agenda mixes the symbolic with the substantive. Los Angeles Times, 17 Nov. 2022 Only seventeen members of Harmony, the party that represents the Russian minority and commands a substantive if declining amount of support, and two nonaffiliated members were opposed. Gordon F. Sander, The New York Review of Books, 6 July 2022 But handling the situation at the southern border has already become a major substantive and communications problem for Biden’s team. W. James Antle Iii, Washington Examiner, 22 Apr. 2021 Obstruction of justice is a crime that is independent of any underlying or substantives crime that may have been committed. Joyce White Vance, Time, 25 July 2019 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'substantive.' 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, 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

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 7


14th century, in the meaning defined above

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


Dictionary Entries Near substantive

Cite this Entry

“Substantive.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

Legal Definition


sub·​stan·​tive ˈsəb-stən-tiv How to pronounce substantive (audio)
: 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
: affecting rights, duties, or causes of actions
a substantive statutory change
a substantive rule of law
: 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)

More from Merriam-Webster on substantive

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!