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From Latin refractārius (obstinate), from refractus, past participle of refringere (to break up). Originally refractary, refractarie, but reanalysed after other adjectives in -ory.


  • (UK, US) IPA(key): /ɹɪˈfɹæk.təɹ.i/
  • (file)
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -æktəɹi


refractory (comparative more refractory, superlative most refractory)

  1. Obstinate and unruly; strongly opposed to something.
    Synonyms: (inanimates) contrary, fractious; see also Thesaurus:obstinate
    • 1787, Alexander Hamilton, “No. 16”, in The Federalist, published 1863, page 103:
      [] in most instances attempts to coerce the refractory and disobedient have been the signals of bloody wars, []
    • 1836, Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers, Chapter 26,
      Mr. Weller knocked at the door, and after a pretty long interval—occupied by the party without, in whistling a tune, and by the party within, in persuading a refractory flat candle to allow itself to be lighted []
    • 1913 Eleanor Porter: Pollyanna: Chapter 8:
      For five minutes Pollyanna worked swiftly, deftly, combing a refractory curl into fluffiness, perking up a drooping ruffle at the neck, or shaking a pillow into plumpness so that the head might have a better pose. Meanwhile the sick woman, frowning prodigiously, and openly scoffing at the whole procedure, was, in spite of herself, beginning to tingle with a feeling perilously near to excitement.
  2. Not affected by great heat.
    Synonyms: heat-resistant, fireproof
    • 1855, Frederick Overman, A Treatise on Metallurgy[1], page 315:
      Pure lime is extremely refractory, but readily fusible if any silex is brought in contact with it; []
  3. (medicine) Difficult to treat.
    • 1949, Albert Fields and John Hoesley, "Neck and Shoulder Pain", Calif. Med., 70(6):478–482.,
      Many of the vague and refractory cases of neck and shoulder pain and of migraine may be due to cervical disc disease.
    • 1990, H. A. Ring et al, "Vigabatrin: rational treatment for chronic epilepsy", J. Neurol. Neurosurg.Psychiatry, 53(12):1051–1055,
      In 33 adult patients with long standing refractory epilepsy on treatment with one or two standard anti-convulsant drugs,
  4. (biology) Incapable of registering a reaction or stimulus.

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refractory (plural refractories)

  1. A material or piece of material, such as a brick, that has a very high melting point.


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