1. alleviation, ease, or deliverance through the removal of pain, distress, oppression, etc.
  2. a means or thing that relieves pain, distress, anxiety, etc.
  3. money, food, or other help given to those in poverty or need.
  4. something affording a pleasing change, as from monotony.
  5. release from a post of duty, as by the arrival of a substitute or replacement.
  6. the person or persons acting as replacement.
  7. the rescue of a besieged town, fort, etc., from an attacking force.
  8. the freeing of a closed space, as a tank or boiler, from more than a desirable amount of pressure or vacuum.
  9. Feudal Law. a fine or composition which the heir of a feudal tenant paid to the lord for the privilege of succeeding to the estate.
  10. Literature.
    1. a distinct or abrupt change in mood, scene, action, etc., resulting in a reduction of intensity, as in a play or novel.
    2. comic relief.
  1. on relief, receiving financial assistance from a municipal, state, or federal government because of poverty or need.

Origin of relief

1300–50; Middle English relef < Old French relief, derivative of relever to raise; see relieve
Related formsre·lief·less, adjective

Synonyms for relief

Antonyms for relief Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for on relief


  1. a feeling of cheerfulness or optimism that follows the removal of anxiety, pain, or distressI breathed a sigh of relief
  2. deliverance from or alleviation of anxiety, pain, distress, etc
    1. help or assistance, as to the poor, needy, or distressed
    2. (as modifier)relief work
  3. short for tax relief
  4. something that affords a diversion from monotony
  5. a person who replaces or relieves another at some task or duty
  6. a bus, shuttle plane, etc, that carries additional passengers when a scheduled service is full
  7. a road (relief road) carrying traffic round an urban area; bypass
    1. the act of freeing a beleaguered town, fortress, etcthe relief of Mafeking
    2. (as modifier)a relief column
  8. Also called: relievo, rilievo sculpture architect
    1. the projection of forms or figures from a flat ground, so that they are partly or wholly free of it
    2. a piece of work of this kind
  9. a printing process, such as engraving, letterpress, etc, that employs raised surfaces from which ink is transferred to the paper
  10. any vivid effect resulting from contrastcomic relief
  11. variation in altitude in an area; difference between highest and lowest levela region of low relief
  12. mechanical engineering the removal of the surface material of a bearing area to allow the access of lubricating fluid
  13. law redress of a grievance or hardshipto seek relief through the courts
  14. European history a succession of payments made by an heir to a fief to his lord: the size of the relief was determined by the lord within bounds set by custom
  15. on relief US and Canadian (of a person) in receipt of government aid because of personal need

Word Origin for relief

C14: from Old French, from relever to raise up; see relieve
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 on relief



late 14c., "alleviation of distress, hunger, sickness, etc; state of being relieved; that which mitigates or removes" (pain, grief, evil, etc.)," from Anglo-French relif, from Old French relief "assistance," literally "a raising, that which is lifted," from stressed stem of relever (see relieve). Meaning "aid to impoverished persons" is attested from c.1400; that of "deliverance of a besieged town" is from c.1400. Earlier in English as "that which is left over or left behind," also "feudal payment to an overlord made by an heir upon taking possession of an estate" (both c.1200).



"projection of figure or design from a flat surface," c.1600, from French relief, from Italian rilievo, from rilevare "to raise," from Latin relevare "to raise, lighten" (see relieve).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with on relief

on relief

Also, on welfare; on the dole. Receiving public financial assistance, as in Half the people in this town are on relief, or Don hated the idea of going on welfare. The first two terms originated in the United States in the 1930s, when government assistance of this kind was first instituted. On the dole, used mainly in Britain but occasionally in America, dates from the 1920s, although the use of dole for a charitable gift dates from about 1200.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.