Definition of conservative in English:



  • 1Averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values.

    ‘they were very conservative in their outlook’
    • ‘This contrasts with a stronger assertion of identity and values among conservative church bodies.’
    • ‘Not until the second half of the nineteenth century did the valuation of scientific knowledge come into conflict with more conservative religious values.’
    • ‘Here again there is a fine balance to be struck between the use of doctrine to enforce innovation and its more conservative function as the bearer of professional values and institutional memories.’
    • ‘We hear a lot about conservative values in the country.’
    • ‘What are referred to as the Christian right in the USA are mainly people with very conservative values about issues such as homosexuality and abortion.’
    • ‘While her friends accept the affair, she must hide it from her tradition-bound parents and religiously conservative older brother.’
    • ‘An orchestrated return to traditional family values has pressured conservative men to explicitly re-valorize women who accept traditional roles.’
    • ‘These prevalent conservative values have complicated the kingdom's relations with its main foreign ally - the United States.’
    • ‘Kenyan homes are traditionally conservative and strictly patriarchal.’
    • ‘This modernization was predicated on defense, rather than destruction, of traditional and conservative Spanish Catholic religious culture.’
    • ‘His parents weren't party-political, but he was certainly brought up with traditionally conservative values.’
    • ‘Should I teach them secular values or conservative religious ones?’
    • ‘Betty may only be a character, but she's part of a much larger trend toward conservative values and traditional female roles.’
    • ‘Lewis was an old-fashioned Christian, and those who consider the church to be too interested in modernising see him as a hero of religious orthodoxy and conservative values.’
    • ‘If the deceased fisherman has relatives and belongs to a conservative religious tradition, his ambiguous death is more likely to be judged an accident than if he is single and secular.’
    • ‘Some activists approach these issues from the perspective of religious freedom and conservative values.’
    • ‘There he embarked on a covert anti-devolution campaign and many respected journalists left as he imposed his middle-market editorial content and conservative values on the paper.’
    • ‘The rapid rise of the green movement is an example of this, because it appeals to traditional conservative values.’
    • ‘Will it mean that the tide of traditional patriarchal values, of conservative religiosity, will become irreversible?’
    • ‘Many of them are religious, (and they may have voted to ban gay marriage) but they are not driven to the polls on the conservative values agenda.’
    traditionalist, traditional, conventional, orthodox, stable, old-fashioned, dyed-in-the-wool, unchanging, hidebound
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    1. 1.1 (of dress or taste) sober and conventional.
      ‘a conservative suit’
      • ‘She was wearing a conservative peach dress suit and low-heeled white shoes.’
      • ‘The traditional range is still being sold, particularly into America where tastes are more conservative.’
      • ‘The students' conservative dress also belies the fact that they are, like they were in my day, by and large liberal in outlook.’
      • ‘It was a kind of sweet and sour sauce, possibly of lemon and mustard, that just didn't hit it off with my conservative taste buds.’
      • ‘The rather conservative dress in question is on the left as you can see.’
      • ‘Otherwise, he has dressed in a conservative gray suit, with a crisp white shirt and perfectly creased trousers.’
      • ‘He really does look as if a men's conservative dress shop is the only place that would hire him.’
      • ‘The best advice I was always given by peers was to dress in a conservative suit with modest accessories at the interview.’
      • ‘Since newcomers established colonies in imitation of their homelands, their taste was inherently conservative, broadening only with time and travel.’
      • ‘Not only are the quantities of meat large, but the fact that there are people who want to eat dried rat bat, or even monkey meat comes as a surprise to those of us whose tastes are more conservative.’
      • ‘I work for a commercial real-estate company with a highly conservative dress code.’
      • ‘Not wanting to bowl him over completely on their first date, she'd donned a fairly conservative dress of navy blue, with white trim and buttons.’
      • ‘The dress was very conservative, but it accentuated my curves.’
      • ‘The real viewers are likely to be over 50, married and of broadly conservative tastes.’
      • ‘It also is the least atonal-sounding movement and will likely appeal even to those of fairly conservative tastes.’
      • ‘The many suits and ties and other conservative dress worn by the crowd yesterday reflected the upscale membership of much of the organisation.’
      • ‘The busts bear no arms or other marks which might help with identification of the sitters, although the conservative dress and hairstyle suggest they were from the middle classes.’
      • ‘For women, the look is conservative - ladylike suits, sophisticated pantsuits, subtle dark dresses.’
      • ‘She was dressed in a conservative black suit and pearls.’
      • ‘The hectic design would hardly have conformed with Philip's conservative taste.’
      conventional, sober, quiet, modest, plain, unobtrusive, unostentatious, restrained, reserved, subdued, subtle, low-key, demure
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  • 2(in a political context) favouring free enterprise, private ownership, and socially conservative ideas.

    • ‘Actually, if the indie labels had politics they were at base neither socialist nor conservative but autonomist.’
    • ‘None of these people could remotely be described as liberals, meaning that the Republican Party and conservative America is itself split on the question.’
    • ‘That is holding back socialist revolutions to appease a more conservative capitalist element.’
    • ‘A return to the traditional conservative values of non-intervention and prudence is called for.’
    • ‘Unfortunately, the electoral reality for the SNP is that it holds what were historically Tory seats - ones which remain socially and politically conservative.’
    • ‘My idea of a conservative is somebody who thinks taxes are too high.’
    • ‘His roots were embedded in the Labour party, in its internal power mechanisms, its trade union affiliations and its conservative brand of social democracy.’
    • ‘Such developments would presumably be envied by genuine libertarians in socially conservative countries - even if their taxes are lower.’
    • ‘Its centre of political gravity has moved from conservative liberalism to social democracy and environmentalism.’
    • ‘The resulting paradox - a transgressive aesthetic supporting a conservative social and political status quo - would endure until the end of the Old Regime.’
    • ‘The libertarian, old conservative wing of the Republican Party has never liked this war.’
    • ‘However, there is a tendency for European electorates to move to the right or left in a manner that may not be co-ordinated, but does produce clusters of conservative or Socialist governments at any one time.’
    • ‘Broadly speaking, the more conservative the state's political representation in the legislature, the more regressive its tax burden.’
    • ‘In this context, conservative governments sought to transform social security into an insurance-based system.’
    right-wing, reactionary, traditionalist, unprogressive, establishmentarian, blimpish
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    1. 2.1 Relating to the Conservative Party of Great Britain or a similar party elsewhere.
      ‘the Conservative government’
      • ‘The Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are contesting every seat.’
      • ‘The prospect of a Conservative government has provoked a major debate in the corporate media.’
      • ‘Vendettas and character assassination have wrecked the last three Conservative leaderships.’
      • ‘This is all down to a lack of capital expenditure on the railways by success Labour and Conservative governments.’
      • ‘If Labour wins its expected second landslide it will mark the end of a century of Conservative hegemony.’
      • ‘If he does become Conservative leader or even Prime minister then, yes, that may make a difference.’
      • ‘An important factor in this was the experience of eighteen years of Conservative government.’
      • ‘After what some would say has been a long gestation period, new Conservative policies have appeared.’
      • ‘The Conservative governments bypassed local authorities in many policy fields.’
      • ‘At the same time we had just emerged from a long period of Conservative government.’
      • ‘The suggestion has not, however, been welcomed by Conservative headquarters.’
      • ‘There was no real Conservative tradition in European terms, nor socialism neither.’
      • ‘In the county elections, there was one Conservative gain, which gives them an overall majority of three.’
      • ‘Many of the people who had sent letters of protest and joined the lobby were Conservative voters.’
      • ‘The Labour Government rigidly stuck to Conservative spending targets in its first two years of office.’
      • ‘Labour's voters are more efficiently distributed than Conservative voters.’
      • ‘The blame lies fairly and squarely at the door of this Conservative council.’
      • ‘Plans for a tidy tip next to a busy park have been criticised by Conservative councillors.’
      • ‘The three MPs said it is official Conservative policy to increase the size of the Army and it would keep the regiment.’
      • ‘How do we develop a response to the Labour and Conservative assaults on our Home affairs and Taxation polices?’
  • 3(of an estimate) purposely low for the sake of caution.

    ‘police placed the value of the haul at a conservative £500,000’
    • ‘He said it was not possible to say how long the pressure would have lasted: ‘A conservative estimate would be about a minute, maybe two.’’
    • ‘And that, say experts, is a very conservative estimate.’
    • ‘However, this is a conservative estimate that suggests at most just one in eight of all non-resident accounts opened over the period in question were bogus.’
    • ‘A conservative estimate has visitors spending an average of €80 each.’
    • ‘However, with conservative estimates putting the figure at almost £40 million, cabinet approval will be required.’
    • ‘The average person moves six times in their lifetime, according to conservative estimates, sometimes losing touch with friends, colleagues and even relatives.’
    • ‘One conservative estimate put the number of protesters at more than six million people, making it largest ever simultaneous demonstration since the Vietnam War.’
    • ‘We consider this to be a conservative estimate.’
    • ‘A conservative estimate would surely be closer to 60,000.’
    • ‘The $2.8 million is a conservative estimate based on records from the House and Senate clerks' offices.’
    • ‘A conservative estimate suggested that mistaken identification contributed to the wrongful conviction of more than 300 people a year in England and Wales.’
    • ‘The price was paid in Latin America in the deaths and disappearance of, at a conservative estimate, around 100,000 people throughout the subcontinent.’
    • ‘Despite the fact that a conservative estimate for the overall cost of the project is in the region of 40 million both men believe now is the time to make such an investment.’
    • ‘The combat capability of such a servicemen could be compared, even by conservative estimates, to that of a modern section or even platoon.’
    • ‘Forty years is a ridiculously conservative estimate, as can now be demonstrated, and it turns out that microfiche's shelf-life is limited too, far more than paper.’
    • ‘At a conservative estimate, anywhere between three to five million people live inside these protected areas and several millions more around them.’
    • ‘It appears this may have been a conservative estimate.’
    • ‘The number of women trafficked for this purpose is unknown, although conservative estimates put the number in the millions.’
    • ‘Those sorts of considerations are why I said $440 billion was a conservative estimate, which is admittedly a bit crazy just to say, but there it is.’
    • ‘And, you know, that might be a conservative estimate.’
    low, cautious, understated, unexaggerated, moderate, reasonable
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  • 4(of surgery or medical treatment) intended to control rather than eliminate a condition, with existing tissue preserved as far as possible.

    • ‘But they usually respond to conservative treatment and don't need surgery.’
    • ‘Initial treatment of both conditions is conservative, but when conservative treatment fails, the surgical approach to the two problems differs markedly.’
    • ‘With resection procedures and conservative treatment, many limbs were saved, and deaths were avoided.’
    • ‘Fortunately, conservative treatments such as ice, rest and physical therapy can often relieve symptoms.’
    • ‘Treatment is usually conservative and involves cortisone injections, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy.’
    • ‘The trial randomized 1,033 patients in 27 countries to early surgery or conservative treatment.’
    • ‘Surgeons need to exhaust conservative treatments before proceeding to surgery and be realistic about the outcome of surgery.’
    • ‘Mild symptoms may be helped by conservative treatments such as pain relievers, physical therapy or a supportive brace.’
    • ‘This finding has implications for patients with normal or near normal facial function who are advised to undertake conservative observation rather than surgery.’
    • ‘Early surgery also avoids complications when conservative treatment fails.’
    • ‘After a trial of conservative treatment, definitive surgical repair is usually required.’
    • ‘Surgical referral may be indicated after conservative treatment has failed, although the exact timing of surgery should be decided on an individual basis.’
    • ‘The orthopaedic surgeon continued to use conservative treatment, but the symptoms were no better a year later.’
    • ‘Mammography, bilateral in patients who had had conservative surgery, was scheduled once a year.’
    • ‘For patients who do not respond to conservative treatment, surgery should be considered.’
    • ‘The surgical alternatives to medical treatment range from minor conservative procedures to hysterectomy.’
    • ‘When conservative treatments don't help, surgery may offer relief.’
    • ‘If conservative treatment fails, surgery to excise any bone spurs and debridement of the retrocalcaneal bursa may be helpful.’
    • ‘Continence surgery is indicated when conservative treatment fails or the patient wants definitive treatment.’
    • ‘Surgeons are traditionalists, and the early experience of our peers has coloured current surgical opinion and slowed the introduction of conservative surgery for the benign parotid lump.’


  • 1A person who is averse to change and holds traditional values.

    ‘he remains a conservative in constitutional matters’
    • ‘This is not to say that any one group of conservatives are strictly to blame.’
    • ‘So the claim that there are conservatives who believe in some sort of absolute liberty is a total straw man.’
    • ‘When divorce came along, the same conservatives argued it would mean an end to the institution.’
    • ‘He could actually win if the turnout is low and led by conservatives who are sticking by him.’
    • ‘Once Africa was no longer a site of superpower competition, conservatives largely lost interest as well.’
    • ‘The antagonism between conservatives and progressives in Korea has a long history.’
    • ‘The suggestion was immediately set upon by conservatives who argued it was all exaggerated.’
    • ‘We can only hope for the day when liberals stop considering conservatives to be lesser human beings.’
    • ‘They saw fascists as more patriotic and determined than traditional conservatives.’
    • ‘I have put up here some reasons why conservatives in particular have reason to be thankful today.’
    • ‘In liberal mythology it's conservatives and reactionaries who take the simplistic view.’
    • ‘The conservatives approve of my using the old words, but my themes upset them.’
    • ‘There are a lot of conservatives who have held their tongue for the better part of two years.’
    • ‘The great failing of conservatives is their tendency to just give up after a few tries.’
    • ‘That line seems to be working pretty well now among some of my fellow conservatives.’
    • ‘The likely truth is that liberal bias does affect news coverage, but not always in the ways conservatives suspect.’
    • ‘She proceeded to lay out her views on a range of issues that rub conservatives raw.’
    • ‘It just shows that there is nothing that conservatives can do to please some people.’
    • ‘Many conservatives expect a Supreme Court justice whose opinions they can predict.’
    • ‘On the other side is every strand of opinion from traditional moral conservatives to communists.’
    right-winger, reactionary, rightist, diehard
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  • 2A supporter or member of the Conservative Party of Great Britain or a similar party elsewhere.

    • ‘He points out in his letter that the Conservatives did not wish to form the Executive of the Council.’
    • ‘Unlike the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives we do not make promises we cannot keep.’
    • ‘Every time I go to a gathering of Conservatives I am struck by their refusal to live in the real world.’
    • ‘Throughout that period the Conservatives remained a minority party in the Commons.’
    • ‘The Conservatives were second in all five seats with the Liberal Democrats third.’
    • ‘Next year the chair will be a Liberal Democrat and the Conservatives will take the deputy chair.’
    • ‘There has never been a coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.’
    • ‘I'd never vote for the Conservatives unless they became a radically different party.’
    • ‘The Conservatives tried it when they were in power, and now New Labour have tried it.’
    • ‘Around them stand officials and party workers from the Conservatives and Lib Dems.’
    • ‘He also insisted the Conservatives were now ready to form the next government.’
    • ‘The letter was also signed by a handful who revealed they had in the past supported the Conservatives.’
    • ‘We know the Labour councillors are opposed to it, so that leaves the Conservatives.’
    • ‘The polls refuse to shift and the Conservatives are seen as a single-issue party.’
    • ‘As the middle class has grown in size so also the Conservatives have gained a smaller share of that vote.’
    • ‘The Liberals and the Conservatives have made the same sort of cuts when they have been in charge.’
    • ‘Now the Conservatives have decided to try a similar approach with their party advertising.’
    • ‘Nor is it right for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to connive with that purpose.’
    • ‘The Scottish National Party and Conservatives are expected to oppose the building.’


  • conservative with a small ‘c’

    • Said of someone who is conservative in outlook but does not necessarily vote for or support a Conservative party.

      ‘I think there are a good number of teachers who are instinctively conservative with a small c’
      • ‘There is something conservative about much of Pixar's output, but when I say conservative, I mean a small "c" conservative.’


Late Middle English (in the sense ‘aiming to preserve’): from late Latin conservativus, from conservat- ‘conserved’, from the verb conservare (see conserve). Current senses date from the mid 19th century.