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Modification of earlier restiff, from Middle English restyf, from Old French restif, from rester (stay, remain), from Latin restō.

  • Shares an etymology with rest ("remain," obsolete)
  • Merriam-Webster states that this word was originally used to describe horses that disobeyed commands. Presumably, then, the word came to mean "fidgety" or "anxious" more broadly.[1]


  • IPA(key): /ˈɹɛstɪv/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɛstɪv
  • Hyphenation: res‧tive


restive (comparative more restive, superlative most restive)

  1. Impatient under delay, duress, or control.
    Synonyms: anxious, champing at the bit, fidgety, restless, uneasy
    • 1914, Bram Stoker, “Dracula's Guest”, in Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Stories:
      The horses were now more restive than ever, and Johann was trying to hold them in.
    • 1943 November – 1944 February (date written; published 1945 August 17), George Orwell [pseudonym; Eric Arthur Blair], Animal Farm [], London: Secker & Warburg, published May 1962, →OCLC:
      [...] news of their defeat had spread across the countryside and made the animals on the neighbouring farms more restive than ever.
    • 1960, P[elham] G[renville] Wodehouse, chapter XV, in Jeeves in the Offing, London: Herbert Jenkins, →OCLC:
      “Hullo, Bobbie,” I said. “Hullo, Bertie,” she said. “Hullo, Upjohn,” I said. The correct response to this would have been “Hullo, Wooster”, but he blew up in his lines and merely made a noise like a wolf with its big toe caught in a trap. Seemed a bit restive, I thought, as if wishing he were elsewhere. Bobbie was all girlish animation. “I've been telling Mr Upjohn about that big fish we saw in the lake yesterday, Bertie.” “Ah yes, the big fish.” “It was a whopper, wasn't it?” “Very well-developed.” “I brought him down here to show it to him.” “Quite right. You'll enjoy the big fish, Upjohn.” I had been perfectly correct in supposing him to be restive. He did his wolf impersonation once more. “I shall do nothing of the sort,” he said, and you couldn't find a better word than “testily” to describe the way he spoke. “It is most inconvenient for me to be away from the house at this time. I am expecting a telephone call from my lawyer.”
    • 2021 June 21, Daisuke Wakabayashi, “Google Executives See Cracks in Their Company’s Success”, in The New York Times[1], →ISSN:
      But a restive class of Google executives worry that the company is showing cracks.
    • 2023 May 13, John Naughton, “A moment’s silence, please, for the death of Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse”, in The Observer[2], →ISSN:
      It’s clear that at least some shareholders had become restive about Zuckerberg’s pursuit of a fatuous virtual-reality fantasy, []
  2. Resistant to control; stubborn.
    Synonyms: disobedient, rebellious, recalcitrant, refractory, uncooperative, unruly
    • 1726 October 28, [Jonathan Swift], “The Author Relates Several Particulars of the Yahoos. []”, in Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. [] [Gulliver’s Travels], volume II, London: [] Benj[amin] Motte, [], →OCLC, part IV (A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms), page 274:
      Yet I am of Opinion, this Defect ariſeth chiefly from a perverſe, reſtive Diſpoſition. For they are cunning, malicious, treacherous and revengeful.
  3. Refusing to move, especially in a forward direction.
    Synonym: balky

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ restive”, in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1996–present.