Definite vs. Definitive

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader asks,

Would you please explain what is the difference between “definite” and “definitive.”

Definite is the adjective to use in the sense of clear, certain, unambiguous. For example:

Think carefully before choosing 24-bit and 96kHz, unless you have a definite reason for wanting these options. 

One sets out into the forest for a definite reason and with a definite goal in mind.

I asked my boyfriend to give me a definite answer about our future.

Use definitive when the sense is decisive, complete, authoritative, final, determinate.

Edward Van Halen: A Definitive Biography
Five Reasons the 1978 Superman Remains Definitive

The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition

The first comprehensive psychiatry textbook to integrate the new DSM-5® criteria, this acclaimed gold standard is the definitive guide for a new era in psychiatric education and practice.

Here are examples of definitive used in contexts that call for plain old definite:

Just want a definitive answer can my 2 year old use the kids club facilities???

My girlfriend broke up with me, but she never gave a definitive reason as to why.

He can’t actually give me a definitive reason as to why he doesn’t like cats.

Both words connote the setting of limits, but definitive goes further than definite to mean “most complete, most authoritative.” A definitive reason, answer, or decision is one that satisfies a specific body of criteria.

Studies, textbooks, and decisions by such authorities as the Supreme Court may be said to be definitive. If all you mean is unambiguous, use definite.

Keep learning! Browse the Misused Words category, check our popular posts, or choose a related post below:

2 Responses to “Definite vs. Definitive”

  • Ayeloja Olakunle

    Need assistance to improve my spoken English will u be of help?

  • Maeve Maddox

    Ayeloja Olakunle,
    My teaching site,, offers help with basic English. Here is a link to an article that lists several online resources for practicing spoken English:

    Hope this helps.

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