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[ahr-bi-trer-ee] /ˈɑr bɪˌtrɛr i/
subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one's discretion:
an arbitrary decision.
decided by a judge or arbiter rather than by a law or statute.
having unlimited power; uncontrolled or unrestricted by law; despotic; tyrannical:
an arbitrary government.
capricious; unreasonable; unsupported:
an arbitrary demand for payment.
Mathematics. undetermined; not assigned a specific value:
an arbitrary constant.
noun, plural arbitraries.
arbitraries, Printing. (in Britain) peculiar (def 9).
Origin of arbitrary
late Middle English
1400-50; late Middle English < Latin arbitrārius uncertain (i.e., depending on an arbiter's decision). See arbiter, -ary
Related forms
[ahr-bi-trer-uh-lee, ahr-bi-trair-] /ˈɑr bɪˌtrɛr ə li, ˌɑr bɪˈtrɛər-/ (Show IPA),
arbitrariness, noun
nonarbitrarily, adverb
nonarbitrariness, noun
nonarbitrary, adjective
unarbitrarily, adverb
unarbitrary, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for arbitrarily
  • Characters and events are invented or arbitrarily altered to suit the adapter's purpose.
  • Ministers were arbitrarily sacked, and fearsomely scolded.
  • Though arbitrarily enforced, you can only bring home one liter of wine duty-free.
  • In principle, the refrigerator can chill arbitrarily close to absolute zero.
  • The groups note that website operators can arbitrarily change their terms of service, and users often fail to read them.
  • It is now routine under this public security tool for the state to deprive personal freedom arbitrarily.
  • Much of getting your first adjunct job is arbitrarily showing up in the right place at the right time.
  • Deficits are arbitrarily defined and easily manipulated.
  • Veterinary scientists worried that the president might arbitrarily end other projects involving animal research.
  • They change the tax regime and export regulations arbitrarily and without warning.
British Dictionary definitions for arbitrarily


founded on or subject to personal whims, prejudices, etc; capricious
having only relative application or relevance; not absolute
(of a government, ruler, etc) despotic or dictatorial
(maths) not representing any specific value: an arbitrary constant
(law) (esp of a penalty or punishment) not laid down by statute; within the court's discretion
Derived Forms
arbitrarily, adverb
arbitrariness, noun
Word Origin
C15: from Latin arbitrārius arranged through arbitration, uncertain
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for arbitrarily



early 15c., "deciding by one's own discretion," from Old French arbitraire (14c.) or directly from Latin arbitrarius "depending on the will, uncertain," from arbiter (see arbiter). The original meaning gradually descended to "capricious" and "despotic" (1640s). Related: Arbitrarily; arbitrariness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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