sub·​stan·​tive | \ˈsəb-stən-tiv; senses 3c & 4 also səb-ˈstan-tiv \

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 \

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 \ 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


"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 lieutenant governorship is an office far more symbolic than substantive, with a limited budget and few formal responsibilities. Shane Goldmacher, New York Times, "Cuomo’s No. 2 Gets a Possible Challenger: Jumaane Williams," 15 Jan. 2018 As a substantive matter, the duties that Trump has already enacted aren’t working out too well for the American public. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Raises Taxes on Chinese Goods, Eyes Foreign Cars Next," 15 June 2018 And as Emily Ladau pointed out in the group's February Twitter chat, #DisabilityToo is about not just saying the #MeToo movement hears and includes disabled people, but actually doing so via inclusion in larger, more substantive, conversations. Brittney Mcnamara, Teen Vogue, "Hashtag Makes Sure Disabled People Are Heard in the #MeToo Movement," 25 May 2018 Health care experts said Trump's plan sounded like rhetoric rather than substantive change for an industry where prices rise substantially more than inflation each year. Author: Yasmeen Abutaleb, Anchorage Daily News, "Trump blasts drugmakers and middlemen for high U.S. drug prices," 11 May 2018 The Relentless Torture of The Handmaid’s Tale Pop Culture’s Great Awokening There is another way to substantive, high-budget, strong-female-lead storytelling. Kat Stoeffel, The Cut, "Howards End Is the Anti–Handmaid’s Tale," 17 May 2018 The claims are often unattributed and are rarely tied in a substantive way to mainstream science. Gary Robbins,, "With marijuana legal, California flooded with dubious health claims about the drug," 9 July 2018 The claims are often unattributed and are rarely tied in a substantive way to mainstream science. Gary Robbins,, "Consumers are being flooded with dubious claims about the health benefits of marijuana," 9 July 2018 The big point of tension is Alison finally talking about her son’s death in a substantive way., "The Affair Season 4, Episode 4 Recap: Let’s Go With That," 9 July 2018

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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Last Updated

25 Oct 2018

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

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English Language Learners Definition of substantive

: important, real, or meaningful

: supported by facts or logic


sub·​stan·​tive | \ˈsəb-stən-tiv \

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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by force of circumstances

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