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  1. habitually or characteristically accepting or tolerant of something, as social behavior or linguistic usage, that others might disapprove or forbid.
  2. granting or denoting permission: a permissive nod.
  3. optional.
  4. Genetics. (of a cell) permitting replication of a strand of DNA that could be lethal, as a viral segment or mutant gene.

Origin of permissive

1425–75; late Middle English; see permission, -ive; compare French permissif
Related formsper·mis·sive·ly, adverbper·mis·sive·ness, nounnon·per·mis·sive, adjectivenon·per·mis·sive·ly, adverbnon·per·mis·sive·ness, nounun·per·mis·sive, adjective

Synonyms for permissive

See more synonyms for on Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for permissive

Contemporary Examples of permissive

Historical Examples of permissive

  • Therefore the poet is not any permissive potentate, but is emperor in his own right.

    Essays, Second Series

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • She smiled at last, with permissive recognition, and Gates came forward.

    Annie Kilburn

    William Dean Howells

  • Instead of being compulsory the Act, should an Act be passed, was to be permissive.

  • Therefore the consequent will of God, which has sin for its object, is only permissive.


    G. W. Leibniz

  • There is precisely the case wherein the will of a wise mind is only permissive.


    G. W. Leibniz

British Dictionary definitions for permissive


  1. tolerant; lenientpermissive parents
  2. indulgent in matters of sexa permissive society
  3. granting permission
  4. archaic not obligatory
Derived Formspermissively, adverbpermissiveness, 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

Word Origin and History for permissive

c.1600, "allowing to pass through," from Old French permissif, from Latin permiss-, past participle stem of permittere "to let go, let pass, let loose" (see permit (v.)). In sense of "tolerant, liberal" it is first recorded 1956; by 1966 it had definite overtones of sexual freedom. Earlier it meant "permitted, allowed" (early 15c.). Related: Permissively; permissiveness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper