from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Causing deprivation, lack, or loss.
  • adj. Grammar Altering the meaning of a term from positive to negative.
  • n. Grammar A privative prefix or suffix, such as a-, non-, un-, or -less.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Causing privation.
  • adj. In grammar indicating the absence of something.
  • n. Something that causes privation or indicates an absence.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. Causing privation; depriving.
  • adj. Consisting in the absence of something; not positive; negative.
  • adj. Implying privation or negation; giving a negative force to a word; ; -- applied to such prefixes and suffixes as a- (Gr. �), un-, non-, -less.
  • n. That of which the essence is the absence of something.
  • n. A term indicating the absence of any quality which might be naturally or rationally expected; -- called also privative term.
  • n. A privative prefix or suffix. See Privative, a., 3.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Causing privation or destitution.
  • Depending on or consisting in privation in the logical sense.
  • In grammar: Changing the sense of a word from positive to negative: as, a privative prefix; - or ἀν- privative.
  • Predicating negation: as, a privative word.
  • n. That which depends on, or of which the essence is, the absence of something else, as silence, which exists by the absence of sound.
  • n. In grammar: A prefix to a word which changes its signification and gives it a contrary sense, as un- in unwise, in- in inhuman, an- in anarchy, a- in achromatic.
  • n. A word which not only predicates negation of a quality in an object, but also involves the notion that the absent quality is naturally inherent in it, and is absent through loss or some other privative cause.


Middle English privatif, from Latin prīvātīvus, from prīvātus, past participle of prīvāre, to deprive; see private.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)


  • The names called privative, therefore, connote two things: the absence of certain attributes, and the presence of others, from which the presence also of the former might naturally have been expected.

    A System Of Logic, Ratiocinative And Inductive (Vol. 1 of 2)

  • The names called privative, therefore, connote two things; the absence of certain attributes, and the presence of others, from which the presence also of the former might naturally have been expected.

    A System Of Logic, Ratiocinative And Inductive

  • To be without some faculty or to possess it is not the same as the corresponding 'privative' or 'positive'.

    Categoriae. English

  • The ancients thought that this stone had the power of dispelling drunkenness in all who wore or touched it, and hence its Greek name formed from a_, "privative," and _methuo,

    Easton's Bible Dictionary

  • 'privative', to be blind is to be in a state of privation, but is not a

    Categoriae. English

  • And to add, the reason why the privative *n̥- was prefixed was probably because the negative adverb from which it derives, *ne, was likewise preposed to the verb, the reason for which I've already explained before in Negational particles, negational verbs and negational adverbs.

    Prefixes in Minoan

  • So, basically his policy is to privative or remove govn't support from healthcare?

    McCain: families need to be in charge of health care

  • Certainly the positions some prominent tea-party favorites have taken — notably their support for plans to partially privative Social Security — will provide ammunition for Democrats across the board in coming weeks.

    As the Tea Party Rises, Democrats See an Opening

  • Thus the mind distinguishes an existential meaning by which C is and a privative meaning by which C is not B or anything else negated of it.

    Mulla Sadra

  • Ultimately, essences are privative and, citing Ibn al-˜Arabi, they ˜have never smelt the fragrance of being™.

    Mulla Sadra


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  • There's a great bit on this in Mill's A System of Logic:

    Such is the word blind, which is not equivalent to not seeing, or to not capable of seeing, for it would not, except by a poetical or rhetorical figure, be applied to stocks and stones. A thing is not usually said to be blind, unless the class to which it is most familiarly referred, or to which it is referred on the particular occasion, be chiefly composed of things which can see, ...

    (on Google Books)

    November 24, 2008

  • A quick check of online sources gives the use of privative to denote prefixes or other word-elements that negate: un-, non-, etc. However, there's another word-related usage, which the OED calls the philosophical usage: denoting whole words which refer to the absences of things or qualities, i.e. dark(ness) as the absence of light, cold as the absence of heat, etc.

    November 11, 2007