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From Old French relever, specifically from the conjugated forms such as (jeo) relieve (I lift up), and its source, Latin relevo (to lift up, lighten, relieve, alleviate), combined form of re- (back) + levo (to lift). Doublet of relevate. Compare levant, levity, etc.


  • IPA(key): /ɹɪˈliːv/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -iːv


relieve (third-person singular simple present relieves, present participle relieving, simple past and past participle relieved)

  1. (transitive) To ease (a person, person's thoughts etc.) from mental distress; to stop (someone) feeling anxious or worried, to alleviate the distress of. [from 14th c.]
    I was greatly relieved by the jury's verdict.
  2. (transitive) To ease (someone, a part of the body etc.) or give relief from physical pain or discomfort. [from 14th c.]
    Synonym: liss
  3. (transitive) To alleviate (pain, distress, mental discomfort etc.). [from 14th c.]
  4. (transitive) To provide comfort or assistance to (someone in need, especially in poverty). [from 14th c.]
  5. (obsolete) To lift up; to raise again. [15th–17th c.]
  6. (now rare) To raise (someone) out of danger or from (a specified difficulty etc.). [from 15th c.]
  7. (law) To free (someone) from debt or legal obligations; to give legal relief to. [from 15th c.]
    This shall not relieve either Party of any obligations.
  8. (transitive) To bring military help to (a besieged town); to lift the siege on. [from 16th c.]
    • 1994, John H. Makin, Norman J. Ornstein, Debt and Taxes: How America Got into Its Budget Mess and What We Can Do about It, New York, NY: Times Books, →ISBN, page 52:
      In 1574, the duke of Alva laid siege to Leiden to gain control of Holland's most beautiful and prosperous city. To relieve the siege, William of Orange and his followers opened the city's protective dikes to flush out—literally—the surrounding Spanish forces.
  9. To release (someone) from or of a difficulty, unwanted task, responsibility etc. [from 16th c.]
    • 2014, James Lambert, “A Much Tortured Expression: A New Look at ‘Hobson-Jobson’”, in International Journal of Lexicography, volume 27, number 1, page 57:
      They had thought it obsolete, but, were relieved of this misapprehension by Yule’s friend Major Trotter.
  10. (originally military) To free (someone) from their post, task etc. by taking their place. [from 16th c.]
  11. (now rare) To make (something) stand out; to make prominent, bring into relief. [from 18th c.]
    • 1819, Lord Byron, Don Juan, III.76:
      The henna should be deeply dyed to make / The skin relieved appear more fairly fair []
    • 1927, Countee Cullen, From the Dark Tower:
      The night whose sable breast relieves the stark / White stars is no less lovely being dark
  12. (reflexive, euphemistic) To urinate or defecate. [from 20th c.]
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:defecate, Thesaurus:urinate
    • 1989, Snyder v. Harmon, 562 A.2d 307 (Pa. 1989) (Zappala, J., writing for the majority), Pennsylvania Supreme Court
      As they traveled along L.R. 33060, one of the passengers mentioned he had to relieve himself, so Barrett stopped the car along the berm of the road, which, unbeknown to the travelers, was directly adjacent to a strip mine.
    • 2017, Hannah Frith, “Ejaculatory Timing and Masculine Identities: The Politics of Ab/normalising Sexual Performance”, in Jonathon Louth, Martin Potter, editors, Edges of Identity: The Production of Neoliberal Subjectivities, Chester, England: University of Chester Press, →ISBN, page 161:
      For example, the times and locales for defecation and urination have come under tighter regulation in the modern West to meet an increasing demand – explicitly articulated in workplace rules and regulations – that people relieve themselves not whenever or wherever they feel like it but at an appropriate time and place (Inglis & Holmes, 2000).
  13. (reflexive, euphemistic) To ease one's own desire to orgasm, often through masturbation to orgasm.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:masturbate
    • 2014, Abbie Smith, Celibate Sex: Musings on Being Loved, Single, Twisted, and Holy:
      Nevertheless, to relieve oneself takes the edge off the desire and doesn't take advantage of others.

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  • IPA(key): /reˈljebe/ [reˈlje.β̞e]
  • Rhymes: -ebe
  • Syllabification: re‧lie‧ve


relieve m (plural relieves)

  1. relief (protrusion)

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