Definition of subversive in US English:



  • Seeking or intended to subvert an established system or institution.

    ‘subversive literature’
    • ‘Then came the fun of the '50s with comic books being called subversive Communist propaganda.’
    • ‘But secondly, the movie is very dialectic and remains very subversive, inasmuch as it has sympathy for rebellious characters.’
    • ‘There is an incipiently anarchistic and subversive element to his work.’
    • ‘However, other members have continued subversive activities.’
    • ‘The charges raised against them were political conspiracy with the aim of disrupting the work of the government, as well as subversive propaganda and violent disruption of the state economic order.’
    • ‘Simply put, dominant institutions deploy orthodox strategies and subversive institutions rely on heterodox ones.’
    • ‘The family has become a subversive institution - almost an underground conspiracy - at war with the state and the state-sponsored culture.’
    • ‘Meanwhile the Directors sought to encourage less subversive cults.’
    • ‘Even though there are some who may feel sympathetic with the philosophy scholar, it is generally agreed that the scope of his subversive activities against his mother country are too grave to be exonerated.’
    • ‘Over 60 of its members, including its leader, were arrested and accused of espionage, subversive activities and other crimes.’
    • ‘Many of these exiles launched a relentless crusade of anti-Catholic propaganda and subversive literature against Mary, which the government was obliged to suppress or refute as best it could.’
    • ‘To a large extent, the job of a university is to be subversive and provocative, while the job of capitalism is to harness human greed in order to build businesses that employ people and create wealth.’
    • ‘But, faced with a deep division in society, the generals regard any influence exerted by alternative tendencies as being subversive and dangerous.’
    • ‘In fact, people might be catching on to the scams more frequently these days, which is causing scammers to seek newer and more subversive methods of fooling their prey.’
    • ‘I wish I could say that I was involved in subversive terrorist activity while trying to smash a corrupt and evil government.’
    • ‘Morality has been used as a smoke screen for political suppression, since the original target of any state censorship was not sex but politically subversive material/literature.’
    • ‘Soon after his release, he was convicted again for subversive activities but managed to escape to Malaysia.’
    • ‘He has even banned subversive activities such as opera, ballet and the circus.’
    • ‘Thus we have the makings of a quite subversive literary tradition that seeks to undermine the tightly controlled world of the urban elites.’
    • ‘Two years later, however, the king disbanded the Assembly, accusing some of its members of subversive activities.’
    disruptive, troublemaking, inflammatory, insurgent, insurrectionary, insurrectionist, agitational, rabble-rousing
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  • A subversive person.

    • ‘Now regarded as a dangerous subversive, Emmeline was watched by plain clothes detectives.’
    • ‘House-to-house searches may be necessary to find and eliminate potential anthrax-mailers and other subversives with American citizenship.’
    • ‘The movement's first manifesto declared that they were subversives committed to opposing tyranny.’
    • ‘For weeks, demonstrators have been chanting in several Italian cities: ‘We are all subversives!’’
    • ‘In Tate Modern the rebels, renegades and subversives are given their own cathedral.’
    • ‘By the end of the 1970s, terrorists and subversives were able to act with near impunity on U.S. soil.’
    • ‘By the term subversives they mean trade unionists, socialists and other campaigners.’
    • ‘There were massive ‘files’ that consisted of jars of smells of suspected subversives.’
    • ‘Was she a spy or a dangerous subversive?’
    • ‘MI5 kept a secret register of suspected Communists and subversives known as the ‘Everest List’ who would have to be arrested in the event of war.’
    • ‘Hollywood also launched him into politics, as president of the Screen Actors Guild, where he helped purge the movie business of what he saw as Communist subversives.’
    • ‘‘We were expected to check these lists against our known subversives and if any were seen on the list, strike a line through it,’ Robinson said.’
    • ‘It should by now be an old story that in the name of counter-subversion, those who did their best to put the alleged subversives out of business did more damage to the Republic than the alleged subversives themselves.’
    • ‘Their triumph there merely confirmed their age-old reputation in Catholic eyes as subversives and troublemakers.’
    • ‘They also permit FBI agents to roam at will through the Internet to hunt for potential subversives.’
    • ‘In those days, dissidents or subversives could easily disappear from one day to the next, never to be seen again, after being picked up by the secret police.’
    • ‘Also, no small point, the Catholics were the subversives and the minority; they were a more enticing target than the majority Protestants, loyal to the crown.’
    • ‘Deemed a subversive for her outspoken speeches against apartheid, her songs were never played on the radio.’
    • ‘By now known as a subversive and revolutionary, Marx was expelled from Paris, at the request of the Prussian authorities.’
    • ‘Gathering such information about the terrorists can be daunting, given the desire of most subversives to keep the organization small, stealthy, and secret.’
    troublemaker, dissident, agitator, revolutionary, revolutionist, insurgent, insurrectionist, insurrectionary, renegade, rebel, mutineer, traitor
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Mid 17th century: from medieval Latin subversivus, from the verb subvertere (see subvert).