Definition of arbitrary in English:


Syllabification: ar·bi·trar·y
Pronunciation: /ˈärbiˌtrerē


  • 1Based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system: his mealtimes were entirely arbitrary
    More example sentences
    • The numbering of years is a cultural artifact based on some rather arbitrary decisions made along the way.
    • I prefer to have my laws built on reason rather than arbitrary morality.
    • This numbering system is an arbitrary designation based on small amino acid sequence differences.
    capricious, whimsical, random, chance, unpredictable; casual, wanton, unmotivated, motiveless, unreasoned, unsupported, irrational, illogical, groundless, unjustified; personal, discretionary, subjective
  • 1.1(Of power or a ruling body) unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority: arbitrary rule by King and bishops has been made impossible
    More example sentences
    • These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority.
    • By the time of the Revolution, the standing army had become a symbol of repressive authority and arbitrary rule.
    • Freedom from arbitrary power is a great good - but so is the avoidance of anarchy.
  • 1.2 Mathematics (Of a constant or other quantity) of unspecified value.
    More example sentences
    • In contemporary frameworks, the rule of generalization invokes a singular term, the arbitrary constant introduced into the text.
    • How you can tell whether a binary number of arbitrary size is divisible by 10 without looking at the whole number?
    • He defined differential operators of arbitrary order D t.



Pronunciation: /ˌärbiˈtre(ə)rəlē/
More example sentences
  • This series of protests clearly did not occur arbitrarily or randomly.
  • Anyone who falls within this date, decided arbitrarily without any logic, is promised the moon.
  • Judgement is not being exercised by the users as they surf the net: it is being exercised arbitrarily by filtering software.


More example sentences
  • African territorial boundaries are however fraught with difficulties because of the arbitrariness with which they were drawn by the colonial authorities.
  • Bulgaria will not tolerate political arbitrariness against the defendant medics.
  • The race itself - a 1-meter dash - pokes fun at the sheer arbitrariness of modern athletic contests.


late Middle English (in the sense 'dependent on one's will or pleasure, discretionary'): from Latin arbitrarius, from arbiter 'judge, supreme ruler', perhaps influenced by French arbitraire.

More definitions of arbitrary

Definition of arbitrary in:

Get more from Oxford Dictionaries

Subscribe to remove adverts and access premium resources

Word of the day skosh
Pronunciation: skəʊʃ
a small amount; a little