[ uh-byoo-siv ]
/ əˈbyu sɪv /
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See synonyms for: abusive / abusiveness on Thesaurus.com

using, containing, or characterized by harshly or coarsely insulting language: an abusive author; abusive remarks.
treating badly or injuriously; mistreating, especially physically: his abusive handling of the horse.
wrongly used; corrupt: an abusive exercise of power.
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Origin of abusive

From the Late Latin word abūsīvus, dating back to 1575–85. See abuse, -ive


Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does abusive mean?

Warning: This article involves discussion of the sensitive topics of physical and emotional abuse. If you or someone you know needs support, please visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline site to chat or call the hotline at 1-800-799-7233. 

Abusive is an adjective used to describe a person who abuses a person or an animal—mistreats and causes harm to them. It can also be used to describe such a person’s actions.

The noun abuse refers to such mistreatment. A person who abuses someone can be called an abuser.

The kind of abuse is sometimes specified before the word abusive, as in physically abusive and emotionally abuse.

Example: Just because it’s not physical doesn’t mean it’s not abusive—emotional abuse can leave its own scars.

Where does abusive come from?

The first records of the word abusive come from the 1500s. It’s an adjective form of abuse, which comes from the Latin abūsus, from the Latin verb abūtī, meaning “to misuse.” The prefix ab- means “outside of” or “opposite to.”

When someone is labeled as abusive, it often means they have repeatedly abused someone. We often think of abuse as a repeated behavior, and it often is, but even a single instance of mistreatment qualifies as abuse. Unfortunately, people can be abusive in many ways, and those forms are often specified along with the word. An abusive relationship is one in which one or both of the partners abuses the other.

While the word abuse can be applied to less serious situations (like to refer to the misuse or overuse of objects), abusive almost always refers to the mistreatment of people or animals.

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What are some other forms related to abusive?

  • abuse (verb, noun)
  • abusively (adverb)
  • abusiveness (noun)
  • non-abusive (noun)

What are some words that share a root or word element with abusive


What are some words that often get used in discussing abusive?

How is abusive used in real life?

Abusive is always used negatively to describe an abuser or their actions.



How to use abusive in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for abusive

/ (əˈbjuːsɪv) /

characterized by insulting or coarse language
characterized by maltreatment
incorrectly used; corrupt

Derived forms of abusive

abusively, adverbabusiveness, noun
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