rel·​a·​tive | \ ˈre-lə-tiv How to pronounce relative (audio) \

Definition of relative

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a word referring grammatically to an antecedent
2 : a thing having a relation to or connection with or necessary dependence on another thing
3a : a person connected with another by blood or affinity
b : an animal or plant related to another by common descent
4 : a relative term



Definition of relative (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : introducing a subordinate clause qualifying an expressed or implied antecedent a relative pronoun also : introduced by such a connective a relative clause
2 : relevant, pertinent matters relative to world peace
3 : not absolute or independent : comparative the relative isolation of life in the country
4 : having the same key signature used of major and minor keys and scales
5 : expressed as the ratio of the specified quantity (such as an error in measuring) to the total magnitude (such as the value of a measured quantity) or to the mean of all the quantities involved

Synonyms & Antonyms for relative

Synonyms: Noun

Synonyms: Adjective

Antonyms: Noun

  • nonrelative

Antonyms: Adjective

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Examples of relative in a Sentence

Noun At the family reunion, I saw relatives I haven't seen in years. He inherited a small piece of land from a distant relative. The donkey is a relative of the horse. Adjective the relative value of two houses the relative positions of the islands We discussed the relative merits of each school. “Who,” “whom,” “whose,” “which,” and “that” are all relative pronouns. The phrase “that won” in “the book that won” is a relative clause. See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun This strategy would work particularly well if the guard has a seriously ill close relative who the AI will promise to cure. Lance Eliot, Forbes, 5 May 2022 Pictured is the red handfish, a close relative of the now-extinct smooth handfish, which existed in abundance in the waters around Australia just 200 years ago. Daisy Hernandez, Popular Mechanics, 21 Apr. 2022 Among them is ending the policy of family regrouping, which allows immigrants to take up French residence if a close relative is a resident. Elaine Ganley, ajc, 3 Apr. 2022 Adults mention beer and liquor, and a close relative is in and out of rehab. Washington Post, 18 Mar. 2022 Investigators said the killer was likely a close relative who died around 25 years ago. Christine Pelisek,, 1 Mar. 2022 Extinct species, like non-avian dinosaurs—a close relative of pterosaurs—and other reptilian species also coughed up pellets, leading scientists to previously think pterosaurs did the same, per the study. Margaret Osborne, Smithsonian Magazine, 10 Feb. 2022 The common sunflower, a close relative, can contain more than 1,000 disc flowers, plus another 13 to 30 ray flowers. Marion Renault, The New Republic, 20 Dec. 2021 Recent research and testing from the DNA Doe Project led to the identification of Little after a close relative provided a matching DNA sample, CBS affiliate WOIO-TV. CBS News, 15 Dec. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective For many, the U.S. is becoming a more attractive location because of its relative stability and growth. William Boston, WSJ, 7 May 2022 For many, the wave of recent rent increases is an unwelcome surprise after months of relative stability. oregonlive, 16 Apr. 2022 This high level of vaccination coverage, the durability and effectiveness of the vaccine, and the relative stability of the virus have helped the United States prevent major outbreaks of the disease for more than 20 years. Brenda Goodman, CNN, 15 Apr. 2022 While Costa Rica has enjoyed relative democratic stability compared with other countries in the region, the public has grown frustrated with public corruption scandals and high unemployment. Javier CÓrdoba, ajc, 4 Apr. 2022 While Costa Rica has enjoyed relative democratic stability compared with other countries in the region, the public has grown frustrated with public corruption scandals and high unemployment. Javier Córdoba, The Christian Science Monitor, 4 Apr. 2022 The relative stability of the annual number of fatal shootings does not mean the total is unchangeable. Washington Post, 9 Feb. 2022 Still, although the order of genes was frequently reshuffled along chromosomes, Rokhsar intuited from his earlier studies of animal genomes that there was relative stability in which genes appeared together. Quanta Magazine, 2 Feb. 2022 High-quality bonds, on the other hand, typically generate modest returns but are better for income and relative stability. New York Times, 21 Jan. 2022 See More

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

First Known Use of relative


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Time Traveler for relative

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

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Dictionary Entries Near relative



relative adjective

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Statistics for relative

Last Updated

23 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Relative.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for relative


rel·​a·​tive | \ ˈre-lə-tiv How to pronounce relative (audio) \

Kids Definition of relative

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a person connected with another by ancestry or marriage



Kids Definition of relative (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : existing in comparison to something else What is the relative value of the two houses?
2 : relevant Please ask questions relative to the topic.

Other Words from relative

relatively adverb It's been a relatively dry year.



Legal Definition of relative

1 : not absolute
2 in the civil law of Louisiana : having or allowing some legal effect a relative impediment a relative simulation — see also relative nullity at nullity

Other Words from relative

relatively adverb

More from Merriam-Webster on relative

Nglish: Translation of relative for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of relative for Arabic Speakers


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