Definition of retentive in US English:



  • 1(of a person's memory) having the ability to remember facts and impressions easily.

    • ‘The book is packed with little gems of wit and wisdom which often have nothing to do with English usage, but which disclose an extraordinarily lively and retentive intelligence, and make the book a pleasure to read.’
    • ‘Giacometti had an exceptionally powerful and retentive visual memory, and his biographer attested to frequent instances of recollections decades old.’
    • ‘His retentive memory for dates was going to prove a great asset in his later career.’
    • ‘For Barthes, film animates the photograph, which for him is distensive and retentive, and draws the photograph forth into protensiveness.’
    • ‘She's very retentive of any facts about the culture, especially about the language.’
    • ‘Orwell's strong retentive memory for poetry is also suggested in a 1942 review of the first three of Eliot's Four Quartets.’
    • ‘Anything material can be destroyed, but thought is retentive and has accumulated throughout Time.’
    • ‘You have much comprehension in your dealings with people, and an amazingly retentive memory.’
    • ‘The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannical, so beyond control!’
  • 2(of a substance) able to absorb and hold moisture.

    • ‘Soils tend to be high in acid with a predominance of clay (25 per cent and more), low in pH, but well drained and moisture retentive.’
    • ‘These mixes are light and water retentive, perfect for little seedlings on the go.’
    1. 2.1Medicine Serving to keep something in place.
      • ‘Most children with encopresis have retentive encopresis, meaning that the soiling or seepage results because soft or liquid stool is leaking around firmer stool trapped in the colon.’


Late Middle English: from Old French retentif, -ive or medieval Latin retentivus, from retent- ‘held back’, from the verb retinere (see retain).