arbitrary

adjective
ar·​bi·​trary | \ ˈär-bə-ˌtrer-ē How to pronounce arbitrary (audio) , -ˌtre-rē \

Definition of arbitrary

1a : existing or coming about seemingly at random or by chance or as a capricious and unreasonable act of will an arbitrary choice When a task is not seen in a meaningful context it is experienced as being arbitrary.— Nehemiah Jordan
b : based on or determined by individual preference or convenience rather than by necessity or the intrinsic nature of something an arbitrary standard take any arbitrary positive number
2a : not restrained or limited in the exercise of power : ruling by absolute authority an arbitrary government
b : marked by or resulting from the unrestrained and often tyrannical exercise of power protection from arbitrary arrest and detention
3 law : depending on individual discretion (as of a judge) and not fixed by law The manner of punishment is arbitrary.

Other Words from arbitrary

arbitrarily \ ˌär-​bə-​ˈtrer-​ə-​lē How to pronounce arbitrary (audio) , -​ˈtre-​rə-​ \ adverb
arbitrariness \ ˈär-​bə-​ˌtrer-​ē-​nəs How to pronounce arbitrary (audio) , -​ˌtre-​rē-​ \ noun

Did you know?

Arbitrary comes from Latin arbiter, which means "judge" and is the source of the English arbiter. In English, arbitrary first meant "depending upon choice or discretion" and was specifically used to indicate the sort of decision (as for punishment) left up to the expert determination of a judge rather than defined by law. Today, it can also be used for anything determined by or as if by a personal choice or whim.

Examples of arbitrary in a Sentence

U.S. News was revealed to have considered assigning in its next rankings an arbitrary SAT score to Sarah Lawrence College because the school no longer collects applicants' scores. — Julie Rawe, Time, 2 Apr. 2007 Darwin's emphasis on how populations gradually change gave the notion of species a more arbitrary quality: Species had whatever boundaries taxonomists chose. The idea of a species as a population of individuals that breed mostly with each other comes from 20th-century theorists. — S. Milius, Science News, 25 Mar. 2006 The Marriage Act certainly employed arbitrary and draconian means. It forced all couples to marry between 8 am and 12 noon, according to the rites of the established Church of England, in one of their respective local parish churches. — David Johnson, History Today, November 2003 Two days after President Lincoln issued the first version of his Emancipation Proclamation, he suspended the right of habeas corpus for anyone accused of resisting the draft or discouraging enlistment. Hundreds of civilians were arrested, some for good reasons, some for entirely arbitrary and personal ones. — Michael Lesy, Double Take, Spring 2001 An arbitrary number has been assigned to each district. I don't know why I chose that one; it was a completely arbitrary decision. Although arbitrary arrests are illegal, they continue to occur in many parts of the country. See More
Recent Examples on the Web Under martial law at the time, reports of human rights abuses were rampant, from arbitrary arrests, forcible disappearances to tortures and killings. Washington Post, 10 May 2022 In recent years President Xi Jinping had tried to reduce the influence of private firms with a harsh and arbitrary regulatory crackdown, especially on tech firms. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 10 May 2022 The tax reforms have made a bad situation worse, Ssekito says, as import traders were already struggling with arbitrary and inconsistent tax increases at different border points. Apophia Agiresaasi, Quartz, 1 May 2022 Fear over arbitrary arrests has spread across the country, according to interviews with dozens of residents and police officers in towns now controlled by security forces. New York Times, 28 Apr. 2022 The heavy-handed and arbitrary way in which it was done in Shanghai backfired. Robert Mahoney, CNN, 26 Apr. 2022 Especially because so many of them can be arbitrary and even problematic. Molly Longman, refinery29.com, 21 Apr. 2022 Marvin Reyes, a representative of the Salvadoran Police Workers Union, said the actions of some police officials would result in arbitrary arrests. Laura Blasey, Los Angeles Times, 13 Apr. 2022 The stat has become a bit of a gimmick, with a lot of focus pointed directly at guys who achieve big arbitrary round numbers in multiple categories. Morten Jensen, Forbes, 27 Jan. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'arbitrary.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of arbitrary

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 3

History and Etymology for arbitrary

Middle English, "depending on individual discretion," borrowed from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French arbitraire, arbitrarie "relating to arbitration," borrowed from Latin arbitrārius "relating to or depending on the discretion of an arbiter," from arbitr-, arbiter arbiter + -ārius -ary entry 2

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The first known use of arbitrary was in the 15th century

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arbitrarious

arbitrary

arbitrary constant

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Last Updated

16 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Arbitrary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/arbitrary. Accessed 22 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for arbitrary

arbitrary

adjective
ar·​bi·​trary | \ ˈär-bə-ˌtrer-ē How to pronounce arbitrary (audio) \

Kids Definition of arbitrary

1 : made, chosen, or acting without thought of what is fair or right arbitrary decisions an arbitrary ruler
2 : seeming to have been made or chosen by chance We were given an arbitrary list of books to choose from.

Other Words from arbitrary

arbitrarily \ ˌär-​bə-​ˈtrer-​ə-​lē \ adverb
arbitrariness \ ˈär-​bə-​ˌtrer-​ē-​nəs \ noun

arbitrary

adjective
ar·​bi·​trary | \ ˈär-bə-ˌtrer-ē How to pronounce arbitrary (audio) \

Legal Definition of arbitrary

1 : depending on individual discretion (as of a judge) and not fixed by standards, rules, or law the manner of punishment is arbitrary
2a : not restrained or limited in the exercise of power an arbitrary government
b : marked by or resulting from the unrestrained exercise of power protection from arbitrary arrest and detention
3a : based on preference, bias, prejudice, or convenience rather than on reason or fact an arbitrary standard different provisions for the married and the unmarried were irrational and arbitrary— K. A. Cohen
b : existing or coming about seemingly at random or by chance or as an unreasonable act of individual will without regard for facts or applicable law often used in the phrase arbitrary and capricious an agency finding or conclusion of lack of evidence would be arbitrary and capricious if the record afforded no substantial basis for such a findingIrvin v. Hobby, 131 F. Supp. 851 (1955)

Note: Under section 706 of the Administrative Procedure Act, a court shall set aside an agency's action, findings, or conclusions determined upon review to be arbitrary.

Other Words from arbitrary

arbitrarily \ ˌär-​bə-​ˈtrer-​ə-​lē How to pronounce arbitrary (audio) \ adverb
arbitrariness \ ˈär-​bə-​ˌtrer-​ē-​nəs How to pronounce arbitrary (audio) \ noun

More from Merriam-Webster on arbitrary

Nglish: Translation of arbitrary for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of arbitrary for Arabic Speakers

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