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[rel-uh-tiv] /ˈrɛl ə tɪv/
a person who is connected with another or others by blood or marriage.
something having, or standing in, some relation or connection to something else.
something dependent upon external conditions for its specific nature, size, etc. (opposed to absolute).
Grammar. a relative pronoun, adjective, or adverb.
considered in relation to something else; comparative:
the relative merits of democracy and monarchy.
existing or having its specific nature only by relation to something else; not absolute or independent:
Happiness is relative.
having relation or connection.
having reference or regard; relevant; pertinent (usually followed by to):
to determine the facts relative to an accident.
correspondent; proportionate:
Value is relative to demand.
(of a term, name, etc.) depending for significance upon something else:
“Better” is a relative term.
  1. noting or pertaining to a word that introduces a subordinate clause of which it is, or is a part of, the subject or predicate and that refers to an expressed or implied element of the principal clause (the antecedent), as the relative pronoun who in He's the man who saw you or the relative adverb where in This is the house where she was born.
  2. noting or pertaining to a relative clause.
Origin of relative
1350-1400; Middle English relatif (noun) (< Middle French) < Late Latin relātīvus (adj.); see relate, -ive
Related forms
nonrelative, noun, adjective
nonrelatively, adverb
nonrelativeness, noun
unrelative, adjective
unrelatively, adverb
Usage note
11. See who. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for relative
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • To her, the relative importance of the farm to Billy was as simple as a problem in addition.

    Dust Mr. and Mrs. Haldeman-Julius
  • I might be said to be without a friend, or relative, in the world.

    Ned Myers James Fenimore Cooper
  • This proprietor was a man of great opulence, and a relative of Naomi.

  • "My relative believes that Mr. Harkless is still alive," said Meredith.

    The Gentleman From Indiana Booth Tarkington
  • He was another friend, and even a relative, of the "illustrious master."

    My Double Life Sarah Bernhardt
British Dictionary definitions for relative


having meaning or significance only in relation to something else; not absolute: a relative value
(prenominal) (of a scientific quantity) being measured or stated relative to some other substance or measurement: relative humidity, relative density Compare absolute (sense 10)
(prenominal) comparative or respective: the relative qualities of speed and accuracy
(postpositive) foll by to. in proportion (to); corresponding (to): earnings relative to production
having reference (to); pertinent (to): matters not relative to the topic under discussion
(grammar) denoting or belonging to a class of words that function as subordinating conjunctions in introducing relative clauses. In English, relative pronouns and determiners include who, which, and that Compare demonstrative (sense 5), interrogative (sense 3)
(grammar) denoting or relating to a clause (relative clause) that modifies a noun or pronoun occurring earlier in the sentence
(of a musical key or scale) having the same key signature as another key or scale: C major is the relative major of A minor
a person who is related by blood or marriage; relation
a relative pronoun, clause, or grammatical construction
Derived Forms
relativeness, noun
Word Origin
C16: from Late Latin relātīvus referring
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for relative

late 14c., "a relative pronoun," from Old French relatif (13c.), from Late Latin relativus "having reference or relation," from Latin relatus, past participle of referre "to refer" (see refer). Meaning "person in the same family" first recorded 1650s.


early 15c., "having reference," from Middle French relatif and directly from Late Latin relativus (see relative (n.)). Meaning "compared to each other" is from 1590s; that of "depending on a relationship to something else" is from 1610s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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