I want an adjective that describes a noun as something that serves as an example of something.

I viewed this ESE discussion but I feel that exemplary doesn't suffice, because it implies bias approval. Like if I used it in a sentence like:

Joe is an exemplary citizen

It doesn't imply that Joe is a typical or representative citizen, it implies that he's a great one that people should model themselves after.

I think that exemplative is a great word. Especially for the context I wish to use it in, which is something like:

Her work is an exemplative narrative on this particular subject

However my concern is that when I searched for the definition of exemplative, there were open content sources such as Wiktionary definitions for it. So is it a valid and proper word that I can use or should I look to another adjective? If so what?

Thank you all for your help.

  • 1
    See sense 3, here (dictionary.reference.com/browse/exemplary), which shows that it can be used in your sense. Unfortunately, it does usually carry the value judgment, so you might instead just go with "typical" or "average" or "representative."
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 18:44
  • I feel that typical and average also carries value judgement though, especially in the context I want to use it in. Like if I said, "Her work is an average narrative on this particular subject..." it comes off insulting, where as I don't really intend it to be insulting. Though I'm considering "representative". Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 18:46
  • 1
    @Douglas: Don't be deflected by sarcastic use of typical - it's probably better than even representative in many contexts. You can still be a typical parent if you have two or three children, for example, but strictly speaking you're not really "representative" of parents in general unless you have 2.4 kids (or whatever the current average number is, for the population you're supposedly representing). Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 18:55
  • @FumbleFingers Good point about the true meaning of representative! But would that concept still apply for something as abstract as subject matter of a writing? Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 18:59
  • 1
    Definitely. There are lots of different aspects to "writing style", for example. And although many writers might be called typical of, say, popular science writers, it's quite possible no single writer manifests all the different aspects of that sub-genre, in which case it might be somewhat misleading to identify any specific writer as "representative" of the entire class. But typical carries much weaker implications of that potential misrepresentation. It just means there's nothing surprising about the particular specimen identified. Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 19:17

2 Answers 2


I think that archetypal is neutral.

very typical of a certain kind of person or thing. "the archetypal country doctor"


I also think that in some contexts the word canonical would suit your needs. It doesn't exactly carry a connotation of quality or approval, but does mean that the subject is considered standard or orthodox. A canonical example often refers to a standard or classic example in a particular discipline.

Conforming to orthodox or well-established rules or patterns, as of procedure.


  • (of an artist or work) belonging to the literary or artistic canon. "canonical writers like Jane Austen"

  • according to recognized rules or scientific laws. "canonical nucleotide sequences"


There is more discussion about its use here: What does "canonical" mean?

  • +1 for archetypal, that would be a great word in certain contexts. Merriam-Webster and other sources state that exemplar means ideal or model, just like exemplary. Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 19:26
  • @Douglas_Symb - I'd be interested to hear your thought on my new suggestion.
    – Charon
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 20:10
  • Sorry! I was busy with some other work. I didn't think of canonical but it does work very great in the context I want to use it in. I think I may go with it! Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 20:16
  • 1
    @Douglas_Symb - No worries. Happy to have helped.
    – Charon
    Commented Jan 19, 2016 at 21:06

Personally, I think standard is as neutral as it gets. The word can mean average, usual or typical, but it can also mean up to standards. So, to me at least, it doesn't carry the same negative connotations as average or typical.

dictionary.com definition


usual, common, or customary

Her work is a standard narrative on this particular subject.

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