Meaning of arbitrary in English:


Pronunciation /ˈɑːbɪt(rə)ri/

See synonyms for arbitrary

Translate arbitrary into Spanish


  • 1Based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.

    ‘an arbitrary decision’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘But Plato tells us that the ethical laws cannot be the arbitrary whims of personalized gods.’
    • ‘That was the system - arbitrary, incomprehensible, illogical - and fairness had nothing to do with it.’
    • ‘Capricious and arbitrary as the system might be, it serves several contradictory needs at once.’
    • ‘This system was so arbitrary and irrational that it resulted in large numbers of poor persons being excluded.’
    • ‘Yes, this requires work - but that is what makes it a justice system rather than one of arbitrary punishment.’
    • ‘They become a matter of subjective and arbitrary whim if they are cut off from collective deliberations.’
    • ‘Make sure the decision about who goes is not arbitrary or based on favoritism.’
    • ‘The question seemed rather arbitrary with no rhyme or reason whatsoever.’
    • ‘Why couldn't people see that tradition, while rather arbitrary, was the only fair way to do things?’
    • ‘The historical reason for this time limit was based on arbitrary precedent.’
    • ‘The use of the severity and rarity criteria has meant that arbitrary and unjust decisions have been applied to many claims.’
    • ‘Any system of classification is arbitrary and thus frail, subject to the contradictions of experience.’
    • ‘So, here I would only talk about a few rather arbitrary points that have occupied my mind in the recent days and leave the rest to other people to explore.’
    • ‘His either/or choice was arbitrary and unnecessary, and he hurt his organization as a result.’
    • ‘It has been said more than once that 10 seems a rather arbitrary number, and it has not been clear how the authors of the law arrived at it.’
    • ‘Citizens, too, began to complain that the economic system was bafflingly arbitrary.’
    capricious, whimsical, random, chance, erratic, unpredictable, inconsistent, wild, hit-or-miss, haphazard, casual
    View synonyms
  • 2(of power or a ruling body) unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority.

    ‘a country under arbitrary government’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘But why should we give that arbitrary power to any civil servant?’
    • ‘To put those forms of authority on the same register as the state and-worse-subject them all to the arbitrary power of the state is not helpful.’
    • ‘So too, one might think that an organized police force poses less of a threat of arbitrary power than a volunteer force.’
    • ‘They have, I believe, lost their way and taken a path that can only lead back to the supremacy of arbitrary power.’
    • ‘It also meant freedom from arbitrary power, which by 1792 was being routinely identified as the power of any king.’
    • ‘If not, what is to prevent the exercise of excessive or arbitrary power?’
    • ‘A right of access to a court is one of the checks on the danger of arbitrary power.…’
    • ‘He was an eloquent opponent of the exercise of arbitrary power by governments the world over.’
    • ‘The very idea of the rule of law is partly derived from the conclusion that it is reasonable and morally good to limit arbitrary power.’
    • ‘Curbs were placed on the arbitrary exercise of power and steps were taken to give some measure of regularity to the legal system.’
    • ‘Thus a major new avenue of arbitrary government power would be opened up.’
    • ‘The following films deal with rebellion against arbitrary or repressive authority.’
    • ‘In the fourteenth century, two parallel movements were under way to enforce Magna Carta's curbs on arbitrary royal authority.’
    despotic, tyrannical, tyrannous, peremptory, summary, autocratic, dictatorial, authoritarian, draconian, autarchic, anti-democratic
    View synonyms
  • 3Mathematics
    (of a constant or other quantity) of unspecified value.

    ‘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.’
    • ‘For tabular presentation we used arbitrary cut off values.’
    • ‘To each triangle, there exists a similar triangle of arbitrary magnitude.’


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.