[fed-er-uh l]
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  1. pertaining to or of the nature of a union of states under a central government distinct from the individual governments of the separate states, as in federal government; federal system.
  2. of, relating to, or noting such a central government: federal offices.
  3. (initial capital letter) U.S. History.
    1. of or relating to the Federalists or to the Federalist party.
    2. supporting the principles of the Federalist party.
    3. (in the Civil War) pertaining to or supporting the Union government.
    4. relating to or adhering to the support of the Constitution.
  4. (initial capital letter) pertaining to or designating the styles of the decorative arts and architecture current in the U.S. from c1780 to c1830.
  5. of or relating to a compact or a league, especially a league between nations or states.
  1. an advocate of federation or federalism.
  2. (initial capital letter) U.S. History.
    1. a Federalist.
    2. an adherent of the Union government during the Civil War; Unionist.
    3. a soldier in the Federal army.

Origin of federal

1635–45; earlier foederal < Latin foeder- (stem of foedus) league + -al1
Related formsfed·er·al·ly, adverbfed·er·al·ness, nounnon·fed·er·al, adjectivequa·si-fed·er·al, adjectivequa·si-fed·er·al·ly, adverb
Can be confusedfederal national
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for federal


  1. of or relating to a form of government or a country in which power is divided between one central and several regional governments
  2. of or relating to a treaty between provinces, states, etc, that establishes a political unit in which power is so divided
  3. of or relating to the central government of a federation
  4. of or relating to any union or association of parties or groups that retain some autonomy
  5. (of a university) comprised of relatively independent colleges
  1. a supporter of federal union or federation
Derived Formsfederally, adverb

Word Origin for federal

C17: from Latin foedus league


    1. of or relating to the Federalist party or Federalism
    2. characteristic of or supporting the Union government during the American Civil War
    1. a supporter of the Union government during the American Civil War
    2. a Federalist
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 federal

1640s, as a theological term, from French fédéral, from Latin foedus (genitive foederis) "covenant, league, treaty, alliance," related to fides "faith" (see faith).

Meaning "pertaining to a treaty" (1650s) led to political sense of "state formed by agreement among independent states" (1707), from phrases like federal union "union based on a treaty," popularized by formation of U.S.A. 1776-1787.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper