something that is added, as one substance to another, to alter or improve the general quality or to counteract undesirable properties: an additive that thins paint.
  1. Also called food additive.a substance added directly to food during processing, as for preservation, coloring, or stabilization.
  2. something that becomes part of food or affects it as a result of packaging or processing, as debris or radiation.


characterized or produced by addition; cumulative: an additive process.
Mathematics. (of a function) having the property that the function of the union or sum of two quantities is equal to the sum of the functional values of each quantity; linear.

Origin of additive

From the Late Latin word additīvus, dating back to 1690–1700. See additament, -ive
Related formsad·di·tive·ly, adverbin·ter·ad·di·tive, adjectivesub·ad·di·tive, adjectivesub·ad·di·tive·ly, adverb Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for additive

supplement, preservative, addition, extra, accompaniment, add-on

Examples from the Web for additive

Historical Examples of additive

  • These quantities are additive for years after 1800, and subtractive for years before that epoch.



  • The first number should be additive, the second subtractive, etc.

    Visual Signaling

    Signal Corps United States Army

  • The additive was relaxation and his world was to be as commonplace as the hearth.

    The Land of Look Behind

    Paul Cameron Brown

  • The relationships are not arithmetical, additive, mechanical, but are vital and organic.

    The Value of Money

    Benjamin M. Anderson, Jr.

  • The additive and subtractive methods are chiefly involved, but there is another method which is an "averaging" additive one.

    Artificial Light

    M. Luckiesh

British Dictionary definitions for additive



characterized or produced by addition; cumulative


any substance added to something to improve it, prevent deterioration, etc
short for food additive

Word Origin for additive

C17: from Late Latin additīvus, from addere to add
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

Word Origin and History for additive

1690s, "tending to be added," from Latin additivus "added, annexed," from past participle stem of addere (see addition).


"something that is added" to a chemical solution or food product, 1945, from additive (adj.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

additive in Medicine




A substance added in small amounts to something else to improve, strengthen, or otherwise alter it.
Related formsaddi•tive adj.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

additive in Science




A substance added in small amounts to something else to improve, strengthen, or otherwise alter it. Additives are used for a variety of reasons. They are added to food, for example, to enhance taste or color or to prevent spoilage. They are added to gasoline to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, and to plastics to enhance molding capability.


Relating to the production of color by the mixing of light rays of varying wavelengths.♦ The additive primaries red, green, and blue are those colors whose wavelengths can be mixed in different proportions to produce all other spectral colors. Compare subtractive. See Note at color.
Mathematics Marked by, produced by, or involving addition.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.